Health

No jab, no job: Citigroup to fire unvaccinated staff this month: memo

The US bank announced its plan to impose new vaccination
rules in October and now becomes the first major Wall Street institution to
follow through with a strict vaccine mandate.

Its move comes as the financial industry grapples with how
to bring workers back to offices safely and get back to business as usual at a
time when the highly infectious omicron coronavirus variant is spreading like
wildfire.

Other major Wall Street banks, including Goldman Sachs &
Co, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase & Co, have told some unvaccinated
employees to work from home, but none has yet gone as far as sacking staff.

While Citigroup is the first Wall Street bank to enforce a
vaccine mandate, a handful of other major US companies have introduced
“no-jab, no-job” policies, including Google and United Airlines, with
varying degrees of stringency.

More than 90% of Citigroup employees have complied with the
mandate so far and that figure is rising rapidly, according to a source
familiar with the matter, adding that the timing of the vaccination mandate
would be different for branch staff.

When it announced its policy, Citigroup also said it would
assess exemptions on religious or medical grounds, or any other accommodation
by state or local law, on a case-by-case basis.

The bank said then it was complying with the policy of US
President Joe Biden’s administration requiring all workers supporting
government contracts to be fully vaccinated, as the government was a
“large and important” client.

“You are welcome to apply for other roles at Citi in
the future as long as you are compliant with Citi’s vaccination policy,”
the bank said in the memo. “If you are not vaccinated, we urge you to get
vaccinated as soon as possible.”

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DIVISIVE ISSUE

Vaccination has become a divisive issue in the United
States, as it has in many countries around the world, with some people fiercely
opposed and many Republicans critical of mandates imposed by governments and
businesses.

The US Supreme Court was hearing arguments on Friday over
requests by Republican state officials and business groups to block a Biden
mandate for firms with more than 100 workers that requires employees be
vaccinated or tested weekly.

Columbia Business School professor Adam Galinsky, who
advises companies on their return-to-office strategies, said many companies
initially welcomed the White House’s vaccine mandate because it took the matter
out of their hands.

“However, companies are recognising that the Biden
mandate may not hold up at the conservative Supreme Court,” he said.
“If it doesn’t hold then they are going to have the decision put back in
their hands and they will have to do something.”

Many financial firms have pushed back their return-to-office
plans and are encouraging staff to get vaccinated and boosted, but have so far
avoided vaccine mandates for legal reasons.

“This is going to be a challenging and complex policy
to implement,” said Chase Hattaway, a partner at law firm RumbergerKirk,
noting the bank has to navigate federal anti-discrimination and other state
laws.

“Citi will have to tailor its policy to state
legislation, and in many cases, cities and municipalities will have different
regulations as well, that may require even further carve-outs,” Hattaway
said.

UNPAID LEAVE

Jacqueline Voronov, partner at law firm Hall Booth Smith,
said, however, that courts have been upholding the right of private employers
to mandate vaccines.

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“A private employer is allowed to mandate its own
policy. And if Citi wants to have a mandatory vaccination policy, they can do
that,” she said, provided the bank offers medical exemptions.

An increasing number of US companies have been using vaccine
requirements to protect employees and avoid operations being disrupted by mass
staff absences.

United Airlines Chief Executive Officer Scott Kirby said
last month the carrier fired 200 of its 67,000 employees for failure to comply
with its mandate.

Many hospitals have fired staff for failing to comply with
mandates, which have been imposed on the healthcare industry in more than 20
states.

While some companies such as Tyson Foods Inc have gotten
more than 96% of its employees to take a vaccine, those in construction and
retail have resisted vaccine mandates over fears of staff resistance amid a
very tight labour market.

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