When the coronavirus pandemic first began, workers across the country were told to pack up their desks and prepare to do their jobs from home for the foreseeable future. That morphed into a solid 16 months of remote work, and for many people, that setup is still in place.
In fact, it's only now that more employers are starting to call workers back to office buildings, what with coronavirus vaccines being widely available and rapid testing being much easier to implement. One such company is investment banking giant Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS), which recently issued an ultimatum to employees to gear up to return to in-person work starting this fall.
But that's not the only requirement Morgan Stanley is looking to impose. The company also wants all of its workers to get vaccinated before entering its offices. And chances are, a lot more companies will follow in its footsteps.
Putting safety first
Clearly, Morgan Stanley's push for workers to come back to the office stems from a desire to improve overall productivity. But the company also wants to go about that shift the right way.
As such, effective immediately, all Morgan Stanley employees, visitors, and clients must attest that they are fully vaccinated before being allowed to enter any of the company's office buildings. And while employees and guests don't have to provide proof of vaccination right now, that policy could change in time as a larger percentage of the company's workers return.
Of course, that begs the question: Can employers really mandate vaccines? But according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, it's legal to require vaccines for those returning to office buildings. And while companies may need to offer certain exemptions for religious or health-related purposes, for the most part, they seem to have the green light to implement vaccine policies.
That's actually a good thing for office REITs (real estate investment trusts), though. Office REITs took a beating in the course of the pandemic as buildings in major metro areas have largely sat vacant for the past 16 months and leasing activity has declined. The fear among real estate investors with office REITs in their portfolios is that remote work will stay in place long term, making it harder for office buildings to recoup lost revenue and recover from the events of the past year and change.
But clearly, many employers want workers back to the office. And they're taking steps to ensure that doing so is a safe enough prospect once again.
Of course, any vaccination requirement that relies on an honor system may not be a perfect one. If workers are fearful of losing their jobs or missing out on promotions in the absence of being able to come into work, they may be inclined to lie about their status -- and put their colleagues at risk.
But if companies make it clear that those who lie will face consequences, that fear could nip the potential for dishonesty in the bud. And if vaccine requirements are rolled out in conjunction with robust daily rapid testing, it could make the idea of working in a building less daunting and more mainstream -- which is just what office REITs need right now.