Google tells anyone entering the office to take weekly Covid tests

Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google

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Google is implementing a new Covid-19 testing policy for its US workplaces as it prepares for a continued rise in infections of the Omicron variant in the coming weeks.

In an email sent Thursday to full-time employees and obtained by CNBC, Google health chief Karen DeSalvo said anyone who comes into contact with a Google office or facility will need a test. molecular negative. They must also report their vaccination status and wear surgical-grade masks when in the office, the memo says.

“The Omicron variant became the dominant strain in the then United States and is highly transmissible,” DeSalvo wrote. “There has been a significant increase in infections across the country, and hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID patients, reducing their ability to provide care to those in need. »

Google has been more aggressive of late than its tech peers in enforcing Covid-19 safety measures among workers. Last month, the company told employees they must comply with vaccination policies or face lost wages and possibly job loss. It marked a shift from executives, who months earlier had said the company would not mandate vaccines.

Several hundred Google employees have signed and circulated a manifesto opposing the company’s expanded Covid-19 vaccine mandate.

When it comes to testing, Google is preparing for a time like this. In April, Google began providing Cue Health employees with at-home Covid-19 testing. It is the testing company’s largest private sector client.

Four months later, Google’s cloud division entered into a separate agreement with Cue to develop real-time tracking and sequencing of Covid-19 variants, a partnership that gives Google unique access to testing and variant data. .

“We expect this to continue over the next few weeks,” DeSalvo wrote, adding that the new testing rule is temporary. “During this time of increased risk, we are making it a policy to get a weekly molecular test (eg PCR, Cue) if you come into the office. »

DeSalvo reminded employees that Google offers free in-home and in-person virus testing options to full-time employees and the extended workforce, which includes temps, contractors and contractors. A recent Bloomberg report said Google’s extended workforce had longer wait times for test results compared to full-time workers.

In an email to CNBC, a Google spokesperson said the company was “implementing new temporary health and safety measures for anyone accessing our sites in the United States” and putting policies in place. to make “workplaces and communities as safe as possible”.

DeSalvo said molecular testing will help ease pressure on clinics, schools and pharmacies, which struggle to keep supplies of rapid antigen tests in stock.

Google has over 150,000 full-time employees and almost the same number of contractors and vendors. In mid-December, executives said the company had so far opened 90% of its U.S. offices, and in recent weeks nearly 40% of its U.S. employees have moved to a one-way facility. given time.

Google expected its employees to return to physical offices from January, but it pushed back on its plans last month, citing concerns about infection rates. However, executives did not appoint Omicron at the time and always encouraged employees to continue to come “where conditions permit”.

The Supreme Court goes in the opposite direction

As Google tightens its mandates, federal rules appear to be moving in the opposite direction. The Supreme Court on Thursday blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its sweeping vaccine or testing requirements for large private companies. The mandate required workers at companies with 100 or more employees to be vaccinated or submit a negative Covid test each week to enter the workplace with a January 18 deadline.

Google executives used the federal requirements to explain the application of their internal policies, arguing that the company’s extensive work with the government means everyone must comply whether they enter the office or not.

Google told employees in December that those who failed to comply with vaccination rules by January 18 will be placed on “paid administrative leave” for 30 days. After that, they will be put on “unpaid personal leave” for up to six months, followed by dismissal.

DeSalvo’s memo added more specific safety instructions in light of the Omicron surge.

She advised employees to use a non-cloth or “high quality surgical mask”. She also said they should stay home if they don’t feel well, even if “it’s just allergies”. DeSalvo recommended employees test as close to the time of an event or office appearance as possible.

“You may not have any symptoms, but you could still transmit Covid-19 to others,” she wrote, adding that vaccinated employees should receive their booster shots “as soon as possible” if they haven’t already done so.

LOOK: Google employees will lose their pay and possibly their jobs if they don’t follow vaccination rules

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