Intel fears workers would quit over a vaccine mandate

Intel's chief people officer told us why the chipmaker doesn't want to require the jab.

Intel logo

Instead of requiring vaccines, Intel is gearing up to require testing under a new emergency temporary standard from the Department of Labor's OSHA.

Image: Intel

Intel doesn't plan to require its employees to get vaccinated for COVID-19, fearing that it would lose employees to a mandate.

"We want to have the most positive employee relations that we can, and we want to have all of our employees safe," Intel's chief people officer, Christy Pambianchi, told Protocol. "We're trying to walk that fine line."

Retaining workers is top of mind for companies like Intel. One in seven U.S. workers — including 40% of tech workers — surveyed by in August said they were planning to quit their jobs this fall.

The risk of losing employees is Intel's "main reason" for not requiring the vaccine, Pambianchi said, though she noted the company hasn't surveyed employees about whether they would quit for this reason.

Still, Intel wants to be careful about "the tone and the way in which we want to interact with our employees," Pambianchi said. Instead of requiring the vaccine, Intel has been offering vaccinated workers $250 bonuses since August.

"Obviously, our goal would be to have as many people as possible get vaccinated," Pambianchi said.

Intel hasn't implemented COVID testing at scale and its sites remain open to masked and unvaccinated employees.

The chipmaker is a federal contractor, but said it isn't currently subject to the White House's Sept. 9 executive order requiring vaccine mandates for companies that work for the U.S. government.

That's because the executive order came out the month after Intel announced its new foundry services contract with the Department of Defense.

If that DoD contract is updated or renewed, or if Intel enters any future contracts with the federal government, at least some Intel employees will likely have to get vaccinated if they aren't already, the company acknowledged.

And as a large employer, Intel will need to comply with vaccine or testing requirements from the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Under the not-yet-released OSHA rules, companies with 100 or more employees must require either vaccination or regular testing.

Pambianchi told Protocol that Intel has "put all the plans together" to require testing, assuming OSHA requires it, but for now, the company is waiting for the official OSHA announcement.

"There's some uncertainty on our part (about) what that will be," Pambianchi said, noting that, among other things, the company is wondering about what kinds of tests are acceptable and possible exemptions for COVID survivors who test positive for antigens.

Intel's return-to-work plan: 'Decentralized' hybrid

As more employees gear up to return to the office, Intel is embracing a hybrid approach for most workers, with exceptions for its lab and factory workers who can't work from home.

But instead of mandating a certain schedule or number of days per week in the office, Intel is leaving those decisions up to teams.

"We're going to take a pretty decentralized approach to this," said Pambianchi. "We're going to empower managers and employees to make the right decisions about when they need to be on site."

Ninety percent of Intel employees favored the hybrid model in a survey the company conducted in April, the company said.

A "small number" of employees will remain fully remote, according to Pambianchi.

And unlike a number of other large tech companies, Intel hasn't set a companywide return-to-office date, instead phasing in each site across the 50 countries where it operates.


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