Google Just Announced a New Vaccine Policy. Here’s Why Other Companies Should Copy It

An internal memo being circulated at Google that was viewed by CNBC.com gives most unvaccinated employees in the U.S. until January 18 to get vaccinated or be placed on paid administrative leave for 30 days. Those who are still unvaccinated at the end of that time will go on unpaid leave for up to six months, and then be dismissed if they still haven’t gotten the vaccine.

The mandate puts Google in compliance with an executive order from president Joe Biden requiring companies with 100 or more employees to ensure those employees are vaccinated or else that they are regularly tested for Covid. The memo reportedly specifies that “frequent testing is not a valid alternative to vaccination.”

Biden’s executive order has not yet taken effect–it faces lawsuits from states, business groups, and some individual businesses. Google has apparently decided to start complying with the rule now, rather than wait for the various legal challenges to work their way through the courts.

Standing behind its policy.

Although Google has not released its memo, a Google representative told The Verge that the company was standing firmly behind its vaccination policy. “As we’ve stated before, our vaccination requirements are one of the most important ways we can keep our workforce safe and keep our services running,” she said.

Google faces a small but vocal opposition to its vaccine mandate in the form of a manifesto signed by at least 600 of its 150,000 employees. The company has generally been tolerant of protests and vocal opposition to its policies from its employees. When many Googlers walked out over sexual harassment policies in 2018, CEO Sundar Pichai announced his support for the protests and the company ultimately met their key demand. As a result, employees are no longer bound by the forced arbitration clause that once prevented them from suing, or speaking publicly, when they faced workplace harassment or bias.

But vaccine refusal is a very different matter. Employers these days are facing some tough choices when it comes to the question of mandating vaccines. Although most Americans are in favor of Biden’s vaccine mandate, a solid minority, including most Republicans, are against it. Google’s policy allows for possible exemptions on religious, medical, or personal ground and the memo says such requests will be handled on a case-by-case basis. There is also the small possibility that a few Google jobs may not fall under Biden’s order, which the memo said employees could explore.

The sad fact is there’s no way to handle vaccine mandates that will make everyone happy. But Google’s approach makes a great deal of sense and it’s one other employers should consider. Here’s why.

1. It’s consistent.

As my colleague Jason Aten noted recently, stability is what employees need most right now. Google has said all along that it was mandating vaccines, so this new deadline simply makes the policy more explicit and lets employees know how long they have to comply with the rule. The employees who signed the manifesto may not like it, but no one should be at all surprised by it.

2. It’s compassionate.

Although Google remains firm in its stance that employees (other than those who qualify for exemptions) must be vaccinated, it’s giving employees a lot of time in which to work things out. Thirty days paid leave followed by up to six months unpaid leave is plenty of time to either get a vaccine or find work elsewhere.

3. It puts employees’ safety first.

Before the Omicron variant arrived in the U.S., Google had planned to reopen its offices in January, with most employees working in the office three days a week. Now that the new, highly contagious variant is here, the company announced it was delaying those plans with no new return-to-the-office date set. 

Whenever Google employees do return to their offices, they should be as safe as possible there. And although vaccines don’t offer perfect protection, along with masks and social distancing, they are the best safety measures we have. The company is doing its best for non-vaccinated employees with its generous leave policy. By making sure that all who come to the office are vaccinated, it’s doing its best to protect everyone else.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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