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Google joins growing list of employers mandating COVID-19 vaccines

(NEW YORK) — As coronavirus cases in the U.S. begin a concerning climb upward and virus variants threaten a return to normalcy, a handful of businesses have announced COVID-19 vaccination mandates as they prepare to welcome workers back to the office.

The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission said employers can legally require COVID-19 vaccinations to re-enter a physical workplace, as long as they follow requirements to find alternative arrangements for employees unable to get vaccinated for medical reasons or because they have religious objections.

Still, the requirements have proven a hot button issue as business leaders mull over office reopening plans, in some cases sparking legal challenges and immense pushback from workers who refuse the shot. President Joe Biden said Tuesday that a mandate to require all federal employees to be vaccinated is now “under consideration.”

Tech giant Google announced a vaccine requirement Wednesday for those returning to its offices. The company has some 135,301 employees, according to SEC filings.

“Even as the virus continues to surge in many parts of the world,” Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai wrote in an email Wednesday, “it’s encouraging to see very high vaccination rates for our Google community in areas where vaccines are widely available.” He cites that high vaccination rate as being a key to the company re-opening some of its offices to employees who chose to return to work already.

“Getting vaccinated is one of the most important ways to keep ourselves and our communities healthy in the months ahead,” he continued.

The requirement will be rolled out “in the coming weeks,” in the United States, and is intended to expand to other regions in the next few months. Pichai notes that implementation of the requirement “will vary according to local conditions and regulations, and will not apply until vaccines are widely available in your area.”

The CEO also saying in his email that while the company has begun to reopen campuses, Google employees who choose to work from home will be allowed to do so through at least October 18.

“We recognize that many Googlers are seeing spikes in their communities cause by the Delta variant and are concerned about returning to the office,” Pichai said.

He also noted that the company is working to develop “expanded temporary work options” for employees with “special circumstances,” which would allow those employees to work from home through the end of 2021.

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