Policy

Tech workers want vaccine mandates. Will their bosses bite?

A new survey suggests more than half of tech workers would consider quitting if their bosses didn't require employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Tech workers want vaccine mandates. Will their bosses bite?

As more employees return to work, the topic of vaccine mandates will only become more relevant.

Image: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

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.

Policy

The Supreme Court’s EPA ruling is bad news for tech regulation, too

The justices just gave themselves a lot of discretion to smack down agency rules.

The ruling could also endanger work on competition issues by the FTC and net neutrality by the FCC.

Photo: Geoff Livingston/Getty Images

The Supreme Court’s decision last week gutting the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions didn’t just signal the conservative justices’ dislike of the Clean Air Act at a moment of climate crisis. It also served as a warning for anyone that would like to see more regulation of Big Tech.

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Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

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While vast amounts of data are created, stored and processed every moment — by some estimates, 2.5 quintillion bytes daily — the insights in that code are unlocked by the memory chips that hold it and transfer it. “Memory will propel the next 10 years into the most transformative years in human history,” said Sanjay Mehrotra, president and CEO of Micron Technology.

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James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.
Enterprise

Microsoft and Google are still using emotion AI, but with limits

Microsoft said accessibility goals overrode problems with emotion recognition and Google offers off-the-shelf emotion recognition technology amid growing concern over the controversial AI.

Emotion recognition is a well established field of computer vision research; however, AI-based technologies used in an attempt to assess people’s emotional states have moved beyond the research phase.

Photo: Microsoft

Microsoft said last month it would no longer provide general use of an AI-based cloud software feature used to infer people’s emotions. However, despite its own admission that emotion recognition technology creates “risks,” it turns out the company will retain its emotion recognition capability in an app used by people with vision loss.

In fact, amid growing concerns over development and use of controversial emotion recognition in everyday software, both Microsoft and Google continue to incorporate the AI-based features in their products.

“The Seeing AI person channel enables you to recognize people and to get a description of them, including an estimate of their age and also their emotion,” said Saqib Shaikh, a software engineering manager and project lead for Seeing AI at Microsoft who helped build the app, in a tutorial about the product in a 2017 Microsoft video.

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Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of RedTailMedia.org and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Climate

How I decided to shape Microsoft’s climate agenda

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Lucas Joppa, chief environmental officer of Microsoft, told Protocol about the company's plans.

Photo: David Ryder/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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Microsoft has set a number of lofty climate and environmental goals. Forget net zero: It wants to be carbon negative by 2030. Ditto for water.

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Brian Kahn

Brian ( @blkahn) is Protocol's climate editor. Previously, he was the managing editor and founding senior writer at Earther, Gizmodo's climate site, where he covered everything from the weather to Big Oil's influence on politics. He also reported for Climate Central and the Wall Street Journal. In the even more distant past, he led sleigh rides to visit a herd of 7,000 elk and boat tours on the deepest lake in the U.S.

Fintech

There’s a secret hub for fintech talent: Look south

Far from Silicon Valley and Wall Street, Atlanta has long been a hub for payments technology.

Atlanta hasn’t gotten its share of the fintech buzz, perhaps because its founders are less prone to tweetstorming.

Illustration: iStock/Getty Images Plus; Protocol

San Francisco has Square, Stripe and Plaid. But Atlanta has CoreCard, Kabbage and CheckFree. It also lays claim to pioneering charge cards, electronic payments and ATMs. Many of the everyday innovations in fintech we’ve come to rely on have the Atlanta metropolitan area to thank.

Yet Atlanta hasn’t gotten its share of the fintech buzz, perhaps because its founders are less prone to tweetstorming and its products don’t have developers rhapsodizing about APIs. Atlanta’s fintech scene has developed around a stabler, more cautious ethos: less move fast and break things, more stay safe and build things. At a time when fintech valuations have fallen sharply from their lofty peaks and regulators are circling, that may make Atlanta a more favorable place to place fintech bets, whether that means founding a company, investing or hiring local talent.

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Veronica Irwin

Veronica Irwin (@vronirwin) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol covering fintech. Previously she was at the San Francisco Examiner, covering tech from a hyper-local angle. Before that, her byline was featured in SF Weekly, The Nation, Techworker, Ms. Magazine and The Frisc.

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