Masks are back in California. Will Big Tech require them at work?

Bay Area officials released a new recommendation to wear masks in public, indoor places — even for those who are vaccinated. But it's not a mandate, so it's now up to tech companies to decide whether to require their vaccinated employees to mask up at the office.

Masked and unmasked people cross a street

There's a new recommendation — though not a requirement — to wear masks indoors in the Bay Area. Tech companies now have to decide whether to keep letting vaccinated workers come in without a mask.

Photo: Bloomberg / Contributor via Getty

An updated recommendation to wear masks indoors hit the Bay Area on Friday, posing new questions for tech companies around mask mandates at the office.

Most tech giants have been allowing vaccinated workers to go mask-free at the office for weeks and can legally continue to do so. Since the new recommendation came out Friday, both Google and Intel have told Protocol they had begun to encourage vaccinated employees to wear masks at the office. Still, neither they nor any other company said they would go so far as to require vaccinated workers to wear masks.

"I think the employers have fought too hard to get to a point where their vaccinated employees don't have to wear a mask," said Sheeva Ghassemi-Vanni, a partner in the employment practices and litigation groups at the Silicon Valley law firm Fenwick & West. "I just don't see them reversing course there."

The recommendation came out Friday from officials in San Francisco, Santa Clara, San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin and Sonoma counties as well as the city of Berkeley, citing a local increase in cases of COVID-19 and the extra-infectious Delta variant. It coincided with a new mask mandate that went into effect in Los Angeles County on Saturday night. By Monday, four other counties in and around the Bay Area — Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Benito and Napa — had also started recommending vaccinated people wear masks indoors.

But the Bay Area's new recommendation is not a mandate, and there's no sign at this point that it will have much impact on large tech companies' mask policies.

Amazon, Twitter, HPE say they haven't imposed new mask mandates

CEO Antonio Neri was not wearing a mask Monday as he mingled with other executives, employees and interns at Hewlett Packard Enterprise's San Jose campus, which was decked out in green, black and white balloons to celebrate the campus' reopening to half of its normal capacity of 1,200.

At least one large digital display inside reminded employees to wear masks if they were unvaccinated. At HPE, that's a small population: Of the 3,000 California-based workers who responded to an HPE survey about their vaccination status, only 6% said they hadn't received the vaccine.

Some of those who returned Monday sported face masks, and HPE spokesperson Adam Bauer said the company "feels comfortable staying the course for the time being" when it comes to its mask policy.

"Our offices are not a truly public space," Bauer said. "We control who comes in, who comes out."

In that sense, offices are different from the grocery stores, theaters and other public places that the new recommendation addresses.

In those settings, it's harder to know who's vaccinated and who isn't, so having everyone wear a mask protects those who aren't.

Masks also provide an "extra precautionary measure for all," the new Bay Area recommendation states. At the workplace, the new recommendation encourages even vaccinated employees to wear masks indoors "if their employer has not confirmed the vaccination status of those around them."

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health announced rules last month that require employers to survey workers about their vaccination status, though it doesn't require workers to show proof of their vaccination status. Under those rules, companies can still allow vaccinated employees to go to work without a mask.

Bauer noted that HPE's mask policy is consistent with the current guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which still says vaccinated people don't need to wear masks indoors. That contradicts guidance from the World Health Organization, which still recommends vaccinated people wear masks.

Several other tech companies, including Amazon, Twitter and SAP, said they would continue to allow vaccinated employees to go without masks at the office.

Google and Intel encouraging masks, Facebook still 'evaluating,' Apple stays mum

Intel "highly recommends" that all vaccinated and unvaccinated employees wear masks inside, spokesperson Stephanie Matthew said, but it wasn't clear to Matthew whether the chipmaker will now require vaccinated employees to mask up.

A Google spokesperson said that as a result of the new Bay Area recommendation, the tech giant was now urging its employees to wear masks inside its facilities for the time being, regardless of whether they're vaccinated. The exceptions to this, Google said, are when employees are eating or drinking, though they should continue to keep 6 feet of distance while doing so, or when their work or a health condition would make it dangerous to wear one.

Apple declined to comment on its mask policies and Facebook left it ambiguous whether its mask policies would change. The social media giant noted that vaccines are effective at protecting against the Delta variant and other COVID-19 variants. The vast majority of people who catch COVID-19 are unvaccinated, the company pointed out.

(Out of the more than 159 million people in the U.S. who had been vaccinated by July 12, the CDC only received 5,189 reports of hospitalized patients with breakthrough COVID cases. Of those 5,189 vaccinated people who caught COVID, 28% had no symptoms or were hospitalized for a reason unrelated to COVID.)

Facebook plans to increase the capacity of its Bay Area offices to 50% in September and, like most of the industry, has been allowing vaccinated employees to go to work without masks. But spokesperson Chloe Meyere didn't commit as to whether Facebook would keep its current policy.

"We're evaluating the latest guidance to ensure our policies align, as it continues to quickly evolve, and will communicate directly with employees impacted," Meyere told Protocol in an email.

Employment lawyer doesn't expect much change

For her part, Ghassemi-Vanni said she expects a "deluge" of client calls about the recommendation.

But because she's seen a "very strong appetite" among clients to allow employees to go to work without a mask, Ghassemi-Vanni doubted that the new Bay Area recommendation would lead to a "sea change" in the industry.

Companies have a range of options when it comes to preventing the spread of COVID-19, including whether or not to require employees to get vaccinated and whether to demand proof of vaccination — rather than taking employees at their word — before letting them go to the office without a mask.

"If you've taken a very conservative approach to employee exposure to COVID, meaning you've required that everyone be vaccinated and sought proof... you're going to already be in a much safer place," Ghassemi-Vanni said.

Update: This article has been updated to include a response from Google.


New Jersey could become an ocean energy hub

A first-in-the-nation bill would support wave and tidal energy as a way to meet the Garden State's climate goals.

Technological challenges mean wave and tidal power remain generally more expensive than their other renewable counterparts. But government support could help spur more innovation that brings down cost.

Photo: Jeremy Bishop via Unsplash

Move over, solar and wind. There’s a new kid on the renewable energy block: waves and tides.

Harnessing the ocean’s power is still in its early stages, but the industry is poised for a big legislative boost, with the potential for real investment down the line.

Keep Reading Show less
Lisa Martine Jenkins

Lisa Martine Jenkins is a senior reporter at Protocol covering climate. Lisa previously wrote for Morning Consult, Chemical Watch and the Associated Press. Lisa is currently based in Brooklyn, and is originally from the Bay Area. Find her on Twitter ( @l_m_j_) or reach out via email (

Every day, millions of us press the “order” button on our favorite coffee store's mobile application: Our chosen brew will be on the counter when we arrive. It’s a personalized, seamless experience that we have all come to expect. What we don’t know is what’s happening behind the scenes. The mobile application is sourcing data from a database that stores information about each customer and what their favorite coffee drinks are. It is also leveraging event-streaming data in real time to ensure the ingredients for your personal coffee are in supply at your local store.

Applications like this power our daily lives, and if they can’t access massive amounts of data stored in a database as well as stream data “in motion” instantaneously, you — and millions of customers — won’t have these in-the-moment experiences.

Keep Reading Show less
Jennifer Goforth Gregory
Jennifer Goforth Gregory has worked in the B2B technology industry for over 20 years. As a freelance writer she writes for top technology brands, including IBM, HPE, Adobe, AT&T, Verizon, Epson, Oracle, Intel and Square. She specializes in a wide range of technology, such as AI, IoT, cloud, cybersecurity, and CX. Jennifer also wrote a bestselling book The Freelance Content Marketing Writer to help other writers launch a high earning freelance business.

Watch 'Stranger Things,' play Neon White and more weekend recs

Don’t know what to do this weekend? We’ve got you covered.

Here are our picks for your long weekend.

Image: Annapurna Interactive; Wizard of the Coast; Netflix

Kick off your long weekend with an extra-long two-part “Stranger Things” finale; a deep dive into the deckbuilding games like Magic: The Gathering; and Neon White, which mashes up several genres, including a dating sim.

Keep Reading Show less
Nick Statt

Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at


Debt fueled crypto mining’s boom — and now, its bust

Leverage helped mining operations expand as they borrowed against their hardware or the crypto it generated.

Dropping crypto prices have upended the economics of mining.

Photo: Lars Hagberg/AFP via Getty Images

As bitcoin boomed, crypto mining seemed almost like printing money. But in reality, miners have always had to juggle the cost of hardware, electricity and operations against the tokens their work yielded. Often miners held onto their crypto, betting it would appreciate, or borrowed against it to buy more mining rigs. Now all those bills are coming due: The industry has accumulated as much as $4 billion in debt, according to some estimates.

The crypto boom encouraged excess. “The approach was get rich quick, build it big, build it fast, use leverage. Do it now,” said Andrew Webber, founder and CEO at crypto mining service provider Digital Power Optimization.

Keep Reading Show less
Tomio Geron

Tomio Geron ( @tomiogeron) is a San Francisco-based reporter covering fintech. He was previously a reporter and editor at The Wall Street Journal, covering venture capital and startups. Before that, he worked as a staff writer at Forbes, covering social media and venture capital, and also edited the Midas List of top tech investors. He has also worked at newspapers covering crime, courts, health and other topics. He can be reached at or


How lax social media policies help fuel a prescription drug boom

Prescription drug ads are all over TikTok, Facebook and Instagram. As the potential harms become clear, why haven’t the companies updated their advertising policies?

Even as providers like Cerebral draw federal attention, Meta’s and TikTok’s advertising policies still allow telehealth providers to turbocharge their marketing efforts.

Illustration: Overearth/iStock/Getty Images Plus

In the United States, prescription drug advertisements are as commonplace as drive-thru lanes and Pete Davidson relationship updates. We’re told every day — often multiple times a day — to ask our doctor if some new medication is right for us. Saturday Night Live has for decades parodied the breathless parade of side effect warnings tacked onto drug commercials. Here in New York, even our subway swipes are subsidized by advertisements that deliver the good news: We can last longer in bed and keep our hair, if only we turn to the latest VC-backed telehealth service.

The U.S. is almost alone in embracing direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertisements. Nations as disparate as Saudi Arabia, France and China all find common ground in banning such ads. In fact, of all developed nations, only New Zealand joins the U.S. in giving pharmaceutical companies a direct line to consumers.

Keep Reading Show less
Hirsh Chitkara

Hirsh Chitkara ( @HirshChitkara) is a reporter at Protocol focused on the intersection of politics, technology and society. Before joining Protocol, he helped write a daily newsletter at Insider that covered all things Big Tech. He's based in New York and can be reached at

Latest Stories