Protocol | Workplace

This startup will fire unvaxxed workers. Big Tech won’t say the same.

In an industry built for remote work, will companies fire workers who refuse to get vaccinated?

An illustration of a hand refusing another hand offering a COVID-19 vaccine jar.

Several big tech companies stopped short of saying whether they would fire workers for not getting vaccinated.

Illustration: simplehappyart via Getty Images

As employers wait for the Department of Labor to issue a new rule requiring employee vaccine mandates, a big question looms: Will companies fire workers who don't comply?

Many of the tech giants won't say. A couple of companies have confirmed that they won't: Both Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Pure Storage said vaccination is not a condition of employment, though it's required to come to the office.

Only one software maker — Boston-based Validity — has told Protocol that employees could face termination if they refuse the jab. That even applies to remote workers.

"We're a private employer," said Mike Piispanen, Validity's chief operating officer. "If we wanted employees to wear a clown nose to work every day as a condition of employment, that would be an option."

One employee has left Validity over the company's vaccine mandate, Piispanen said, but the nearly 400-person company hasn't had to fire anyone for this reason.

More than 90% of Validity's employees are currently vaccinated and around a dozen are seeking exemptions for protected medical or religious reasons.

But for those without legally protected exemptions, termination is not out of the question, Piispanen said.

"We don't want that to happen, but we also want our employees to want to be here," Piispanen said. "The downside of accommodating (employees who refuse the vaccine) is they're now putting other people at risk if they're in the office."

Refusing vaccination may make it tougher to get a job in tech. As many as 78% of hiring managers in the computer and IT industry said they wanted to see vaccination status on applicants' resumes in a recent survey.

Will Big Tech fire workers over the vaccine?

Several big tech companies stopped short of saying whether they would fire workers for not getting vaccinated.

Spokespeople for Google, Facebook, Twitter, Uber and Lyft all declined to say whether their employees could face termination for this reason. Google and Lyft only said that employees who don't show proof of vaccination would have to discuss their options with HR.

Neither Uber nor Lyft is currently requiring drivers to get vaccinated.

For office workers, remote work seems like an obvious solution. September Rea, a litigator at the law firm Polsinelli, expects that many companies will continue relegating any unvaccinated employees to remote work.

"I don't see that happening," Rea said. "What I've seen historically — just in the short time we've had vaccination requirements voluntarily — has been they allow people to work from home if they don't want it."

But companies like Validity may want to enforce vaccination regardless. Erin McLaughlin, a shareholder in the labor and employment group at the law firm Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, expects policies to vary by employer.

"I think if it's an employer who wants employees to be back in the office, they're not going to be inclined to grant remote work as an accommodation for not being vaccinated," McLaughlin told Protocol. "They're going to take the position that mandatory attendance in the office is an essential function of the job."

For its part, Uber said it was still figuring out how to handle exemptions and would have a better sense by the time it reopens its offices in January. For now, anyone who goes to an Uber office has to show proof of vaccination, the company said.

That seems to be a common theme for large tech employers, many of which plan to continue allowing remote work full time until at least January.

In the coming weeks, Uber and other tech companies are expecting to learn more from the DOL's Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The agency is set to release an Emergency Temporary Standard to require vaccine or weekly testing mandates at companies with 100 or more employees.

Will remote workers have to get vaccinated or tested?

When companies started mandating vaccination earlier this year, it was understood as an effort to prevent the virus from spreading at the office. Why should a company require remote workers — those who never see their colleagues — to get vaccinated?

Federal officials have already indicated that the emergency rule won't apply to remote workers who never go to the office.

If the rule were to apply to remote workers, McLaughlin said that might undermine OSHA's use of the emergency temporary standard and get outside of the agency's purview — which is the workplace.

"It would be unusual for the OSHA rules to require the vaccination for employees who aren't coming to a work location," said Rea. "If someone's working remotely there's arguably no reason it's protecting the worker."

But that doesn't mean companies themselves won't apply them to remote workers — and Validity is proving that there's at least some appetite to do so in the tech sector.

The company isn't alone: Its owners, Silversmith Capital Partners and Providence Strategic Growth, supported a similar set of policies that were applied to other portfolio companies, Piispanen said.

There are several reasons for applying the vaccine mandate to remote workers. For one, in a fierce market for top tech talent, Validity sees its employees as indispensable experts who need to be available to work.

"Having them get sick will have a detrimental impact to our customers and to our business," Piispanen said. "I also think there is a little bit of a duty to care for us as employers for our employees. The science supports vaccines — there's no denying that."

Protocol | Workplace

The whiteboard wars: Miro and Figma want to make meetings better

Miro and Figma separately launched features on Tuesday aimed at improving collaboration on their platforms.

Whiteboard rivals Miro and Figma each released collaboration improvements.

Logos: Figma and Miro

We expect a lot from our productivity tools these days. You can't just stroll over to your team members' desks and show them what you're working on anymore. Most of those interactions need to happen online, and it's even better if the work and the communication can happen in one place. Miro and Figma — competitors in the collaborative whiteboard space — understand how critical remote collaboration is, and are both working to up their meeting game.

This week, both platforms announced features aimed at improving the collaboration experience, each vying to be the home base for teams to work and hang out together. Figma announced updates to its multiplayer whiteboard FigJam, and Miro announced a new set of tools that it's calling Miro Smart Meetings. Figma's goal is to make FigJam more customizable and accessible for everyone; Miro wants to be the best place for content-centered, professional meetings. They both want to be the go-to hub for teams looking to get stuff done.

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Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at llawrence@protocol.com.

The way we work has fundamentally changed. COVID-19 upended business dealings and office work processes, putting into hyperdrive a move towards digital collaboration platforms that allow teams to streamline processes and communicate from anywhere. According to the International Data Corporation, the revenue for worldwide collaboration applications increased 32.9 percent from 2019 to 2020, reaching $22.6 billion; it's expected to become a $50.7 billion industry by 2025.

"While consumers and early adopter businesses had widely embraced collaborative applications prior to the pandemic, the market saw five years' worth of new users in the first six months of 2020," said Wayne Kurtzman, research director of social and collaboration at IDC. "This has cemented collaboration, at least to some extent, for every business, large and small."

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Kate Silver

Kate Silver is an award-winning reporter and editor with 15-plus years of journalism experience. Based in Chicago, she specializes in feature and business reporting. Kate's reporting has appeared in the Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Atlantic's CityLab, Atlas Obscura, The Telegraph and many other outlets.

Protocol | Workplace

Hybrid work is here to stay. Here’s how to do it better.

We've recovered from the COVID-19 digital collaboration whiplash. Now we must build a more intentional model for hybrid work.

This is a call to managers to understand the mundane or unwanted projects their employees face, and what work excites them.

Photo: Adobe

Ashley Still is Adobe's Senior Vice President of Digital Media – Marketing, Strategy & Global Partnerships.

When COVID-19 hit, we were forced into a fully digital mode of business operation. Overnight, we adopted available remote work tools — even if imperfect, they were the best tools for the job.

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Ashley Still
As Senior Vice President, Digital Media – Marketing, Strategy & Global Partnerships, Ashley Still leads product marketing and business development for Adobe's flagship Creative Cloud and Document Cloud offerings. This includes iconic software brands such as Photoshop, Lightroom, Illustrator, InDesign and Acrobat. Her expanded remit now includes Adobe's strategic partnership work with technology companies globally, including Apple, Microsoft and Google; and driving Adobe's fast-growing mobile app business. Her team is also responsible for the demand generation marketing campaigns that makes Adobe the market-leader, across creative and document productivity segments. Previously she was Vice President and General Manager, Adobe Creative Cloud for Enterprise. Here her team delivered an integrated content creation, collaboration and publishing solution that securely enables brands to create exceptional design and content. Prior to this, Ashley was Senior Director of Product & Marketing for Adobe Primetime, an Internet television platform used by Comcast, Turner, NBC Sports and other global media companies to deliver TV content and dynamic advertising to any Internet device. Under Ashley's leadership, Adobe Primetime won an Emmy Award for the Adobe Pass TV-Everywhere service. Ashley joined Adobe in 2004 following her internship with the company and held several product management positions for Adobe Photoshop. Still earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale University and her Masters degree from Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Protocol | Workplace

Meet the productivity app influencers

Within the realm of productivity influencing, there is a somewhat surprising sect: Creators who center their content around a specific productivity app.

People are making content and building courses based off of their favorite productivity apps.

Photos: Courtesy

This is the creators' internet. The rest of us are just living in it. We're accustomed to the scores of comedy TikTokers, beauty YouTubers and lifestyle Instagram influencers gracing our feeds. A significant portion of these creators are productivity gurus, advising their followers on how they organize their lives.

Within the realm of productivity influencing, there's a surprising sect: Creators who center their content around a specific productivity app. They're a powerful part of these apps' ecosystems, drawing users to the platform and offering helpful tips and tricks. Notion in particular has a huge influencer family, with #notion gaining millions of views on TikTok.

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Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at llawrence@protocol.com.

Payments Infrastructure

Power Index: Payments Infrastructure

A data-driven ranking of the most powerful players in tech — and the challengers best positioned to disrupt them.

Welcome back to the Protocol Power Index, a ranking of the most powerful companies by tech industry subsector, as well as the companies best positioned to challenge them. This time: payments infrastructure.

The payments stack has been evolving dramatically in the last decade with the rise of ecommerce and new forms of money transfers, and though it's a sector that's been touched by Midas through each of its iterations, there's somehow still space for newcomers to be minted. Payments giants have ceded coveted territory to new market entrants during the process, but they are hardly down for the count.

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Hirsh Chitkara
Hirsh Chitkara (@ChitkaraHirsh) is a researcher at Protocol, based out of New York City. Before joining Protocol, he worked for Business Insider Intelligence, where he wrote about Big Tech, telecoms, workplace privacy, smart cities, and geopolitics. He also worked on the Strategy & Analytics team at the Cleveland Indians.
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