After Months of Avoiding the Vaccine Issue, Companies Begin to Mandate

Tyson and Microsoft were the latest to require employees to be vaccinated. Other major employers have tried less sweeping approaches.

By Michael Corkery, Lauren Hirsch, Brooks Barnes and Kellen Browning

Some of the nation’s largest employers, for months reluctant to wade into the fraught issue of whether Covid-19 vaccinations should be mandatory for workers, have in recent days been compelled to act as infections have surged again.

On Tuesday, Tyson Foods told its 120,000 workers in offices, slaughterhouses and poultry plants across the country that they would need to be vaccinated by Nov. 1 as a “condition of employment.” And Microsoft, which employs roughly 100,000 people in the United States, said it would require proof of vaccination for all employees, vendors and guests to gain access to its offices.

Last week, Google said it would require employees who returned to the company’s offices to be vaccinated, while Disney announced a mandate for all salaried and nonunion hourly workers who work on site.

Other companies, including Walmart, the largest private employer in the United States, and Lyft and Uber, have taken a less forceful approach, mandating vaccines for white-collar workers but not for millions of frontline workers. Those moves essentially set up a divide between the employees who work in offices and employees who deal directly with the public and, collectively, have been more reluctant to get the shots.

“We did not take this decision lightly,” Tyson’s chief executive, Donnie King, wrote in a memo to employees announcing the company’s full mandate. “We have spent months encouraging our team members to get vaccinated — today, under half of our team members are.”

The moves brought praise from the White House.

“I want to thank Walmart, Google, Netflix, Disney, Tyson Foods for their recent actions requiring vaccination for employees,” President Biden said in a press briefing on Tuesday. “Look, I know this isn’t easy — but I will have their backs.”

“Others have declined to step up,” he said. “I find it disappointing.”

Indeed, most other big employers have so far avoided mandates entirely. Amazon, the second-largest private employer in the country, has not announced any plans to require immunizations, nor has Apple or many of the biggest banks.

“We are strongly working to get our employees vaccinated,” Amazon’s chief financial officer, Brian Olsavsky, said in a call with reporters last week, “and we hope everyone else gets vaccinated and this goes away.”

The coronavirus, however, shows no signs of going away. With vaccination rates stagnating in many parts of the country and the Delta variant surging, a new wave of infections is forcing businesses to act.

“The rise of the Delta variant is on people’s minds,” said Douglas Brayley, an employment lawyer at Ropes & Gray. “I think they are looking around and seeing a greater number of employers start to mandate, and so they’re wondering whether they should reconsider as well.”

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