Tech giants were among the first to send their employees home at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, as vaccines become more available, those same companies — Facebook, Uber, Microsoft and more — are slowly but surely beginning to bring them back.
But a new survey from Qualtrics suggests tech workers are more wary than most about returning to the office before their colleagues are vaccinated.
According to data shared exclusively with Protocol, more than 50% of respondents from the tech industry said they'd consider leaving their jobs if their employer doesn't require employees to get vaccinated. Just 37% of the general population surveyed said the same.
Tech industry employees were also far more likely than the rest of the workforce to support vaccine mandates in general. More than 80% of tech workers who responded said they'd support such mandates at their place of work. That's compared to 66% among the broader pool of respondents. The only other industry that voiced as much support for vaccine mandates was financial services. Health care workers, meanwhile, were among the least enthusiastic about mandates.
While the sample size in this survey is limited (there were 148 techies in the survey pool of 1,003 people) tech workers' hesitancy to return to work without assurances that their officemates will be vaccinated could complicate companies' plans to reopen. Since last year, tech giants like Facebook have contemplated a future in which a large portion of employees work remotely forever. But CEO Mark Zuckerberg made clear that it's the company that will ultimately decide whether to give an employee permission to work from home permanently, based on things like that employee's performance review and level of experience.
Microsoft, meanwhile, has said that while hybrid work will be part of its future, once COVID-19 "no longer presents a significant burden on our communities," workers will be expected to spend no more than 50% of their working time at home. And Google has floated the idea of a "flexible work model," where employees spend at least three days working from the office per week.
Even as they design these return-to-work plans, touting the increase in vaccine access across the country, few companies have said whether getting a vaccine will be a prerequisite to returning to work. Such a requirement would undoubtedly invite the ire of conservative lawmakers who are increasingly voicing opposition to Biden administration efforts to create vaccine passports, which would prove a person's vaccination status. Civil liberties groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation have expressed concern about the idea, as well.
There are also laws that dictate whether employers are allowed to issue such mandates. But in California, home to the heart of the tech industry, they can, as long as they don't discriminate against or harass employees based on a protected characteristic, like their religion or a disability. Still, some legal experts question whether businesses can issue mandates on the COVID-19 vaccines that are currently available, since they received emergency use authorization, not official FDA approval.
For now, tech companies are just beginning to tiptoe back into office life. But as more employees are required to return to work and vaccines become more plentiful, the topic of vaccine mandates will only become more relevant, making it critical for companies to know where their employees stand.