Even before the highly transmissible Delta variant became the dominant strain of COVID-19 across the U.S., many companies were busy establishing vaccine policies, especially as they were making plans to bring workers back to the office. But now that the Delta variant has taken hold and caused a surge in coronavirus infections, more companies are firming up their COVID vaccination policies.
Here, we'll run through a list of companies requiring vaccines for the time being -- and discuss how these decisions could impact real estate investors.
Is a vaccination mandate even legal?
The general consensus is that yes, any given employer has the right to impose a vaccine mandate. An unvaccinated employee could pose a huge health hazard for any worker who's immunocompromised and therefore may not be getting the full amount of protection from vaccination as others.
Furthermore, employees who don't get a coronavirus vaccine when their employers mandate it can be fired for cause for violating company policy, the same way any given worker can be terminated for violating a different employer rule. Workers in this situation would not be entitled to unemployment benefits.
That said, companies are generally required to offer exemptions to the COVID vaccine rule for employees who can't get a shot for religious or medical reasons. Those who don't make a reasonable accommodation when an employee has a legitimate reason to skirt the vaccination requirement could be sued for wrongful termination if they let employees go on that basis.
Of course, there's an easy workaround to that problem -- allowing employees who haven't gotten a vaccine to work remotely until their status changes. In fact, that's a safer solution than allowing unvaccinated workers to show up to an office but requiring proof of a negative COVID-19 test.
Companies requiring COVID-19 vaccination
Many companies are still in the process of narrowing down their vaccination policies, but a number of companies have already gone public with their vaccination rules. Here are some notable companies that have a vaccine requirement.
Delta will require all new hires in the U.S. to be vaccinated against COVID-19 unless they qualify for an exemption. While Delta is not extending this requirement to passengers at this time, it is enforcing a mask-wearing policy for all passengers aged two and older.
The fact that Delta is taking this step is a good thing for real estate investors, particularly those who own hospitality REITs (real estate investment trusts). The more airlines take steps to create a safe environment for travelers, the more likely people are to keep traveling -- and booking hotel stays. Hotels took a beating in 2020 when occupancy rates plunged to record-low levels, so strong vaccine policies on the part of airlines could really help fuel their recovery.
United Airlines will require all of its U.S. employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine by late September or risk being fired for cause. That's on top of its masking requirements for all passengers aged two and over.
As is the case with Delta Air Lines, requiring vaccines among employees could help alleviate coronavirus concerns among travelers. The result? More flight bookings and more hotel stays to follow them.
Hawaiin Airlines is following in United's lead on the vaccine front and mandating that all U.S. employees receive a coronavirus vaccine. Employees have until November 1 to receive their second shot, though the company will be offering exemptions to those who qualify based on medical or religious reasons.
Mandating vaccines for employees could make it so passengers are able to book flights on Hawaiin Airlines with fewer health concerns. The result? An uptick in travel that benefits hotels.
Office buildings could also, in time, benefit from stricter vaccine policies among airlines. Though business travel has lagged well behind leisure travel in the context of reaching pre-pandemic levels, as more airlines impose added safety measures, companies should have an easier time sending employees on business trips.
Morgan Stanley's vaccine policy applies not only to its employees but also to clients and visitors to its office buildings: Show proof of vaccination, or don't enter. This move is significant for a few reasons.
First, Morgan Stanley is a major office building tenant, especially in New York City, and by enforcing vaccines, it's making it possible for employees to return to work safely. Secondly, Morgan Stanley is a big name in the financial industry, and its announcement will likely inspire other banking giants to follow in its lead.
All of this is great news for office REITs. Office REITs, like hotels, saw their value decline in 2020 as buildings sat vacant and leasing activity came to a halt. Strict vaccine policies could be the ticket to bringing more people back to work -- and getting more longer-term leases signed.
Equinox is requiring all members and employees to provide proof of vaccination before coming to work or entering its fitness facilities. And that's a good thing for commercial landlords.
Of all the places for a potential COVID-19 outbreak to occur, gyms are a likely candidate. The combination of maskless people and extra exertion sets the stage for frightening transmission rates, especially at a time when the Delta variant is dominating.
By imposing a vaccine requirement, Equinox will, hopefully, create a safer workout environment for its employees and clients alike. That could, in turn, prevent it from having to suffer revenue losses from shuttered locations and risk having those closures become permanent. And if there's one thing commercial landlords can't afford right now, it's to lose tenants.
Google employees must be vaccinated before returning to in-person work this fall. That's important for real estate investors due to the clout a player like Google has in the corporate and tech world.
Now that Google is requiring vaccines, there's a strong chance more companies will begin to follow in its lead. That could, in turn, make for a safer return to offices, which could work wonders for office REITs.
Like Google, Facebook is imposing a vaccine mandate on any employee who wants to return to the office. Since Facebook has a similar ability to influence other companies both inside the tech world and outside it, this is good news for investors who are hoping for a robust return to office buildings sooner rather than later.
Warehouse and logistics REIT Prologis will mandate vaccines for all of its U.S.-based employees as of October 15, the same date that it is requiring employees to return to the office. The company reported that over 82% of its employees are already vaccinated.
Saks will be requiring employees to be fully vaccinated before returning to in-person work this fall. Its goal is to make its stores as safe for consumers as possible.
This is important for real estate investors with retail REITs in their portfolios. A number of retailers got battered in the course of the pandemic, and the shift to online shopping that's occurred over the past year threatens to hurt retailers even more. By enforcing vaccines, Saks is taking a key step to make consumers more comfortable with the idea of shopping in stores.
Union Square Hospitality Group
Union Square Hospitality Group, which operates a number of restaurants in New York City and Washington, D.C., is requiring that all employees and guests provide proof of vaccination in order to enter one of its dining establishments. As the first major restaurant operator to impose such a requirement, Union Square Hospitality Group is taking a bold step to curb the spread of COVID-19 in one of its most easily transmissible environments -- a place where patrons, by nature, can't mask up.
The hope is that now that Union Square Hospitality Group is imposing this mandate, more restaurant operators will follow in its lead. Many restaurants closed their doors in the wake of the pandemic, leaving commercial landlords with vacancies to fill. If restaurants band together to create a safer environment for diners, they'll be less likely to need to shutter.
Enforcing vaccine requirements could also help restaurants tackle their ongoing labor shortage issues. Many dining establishments have struggled to hire, especially since jobless workers on unemployment are still entitled to a $300 weekly boost through early September. Eliminating this safety concern could encourage more workers to apply for restaurant jobs.
The big-box giant recently announced that it will be requiring that managers and employees at its headquarters provide proof of a coronavirus vaccine. Though this mandate doesn't extend to Walmart's entire staff, it'll be interesting to see if store and fulfillment center workers are covered by it in the future.
Citigroup will require employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to in-person work. Beginning September 13, employees working in the company's New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington, and Philadelphia offices will need to provide proof of vaccination. They'll also be expected to show up at least twice a week.
Interestingly, Citigroup isn't imposing this same mandate on employees at its other branches. It is, however, strongly encouraging vaccines.
The fact that another major player in the financial world is mandating vaccines is good news for investors with office REITs in their portfolios. This move on the part of Citigroup will help ensure that its offices are able to reopen without a hitch, and ideally, more big companies will follow in its lead.
Employees returning to Capital One campuses must have proof that they have been vaccinated. Contractors, vendors, and visitors to Capital One corporate locations will also have to be vaccinated. Capital One also delayed its opening date from September 7 to November 2. Unvaccinated employees will be allowed to work from home. The company will also offer Mondays and Fridays as companywide remote work days.
Will vaccine requirements become the norm?
Many health experts insist that the only way to really move past the coronavirus pandemic is to see a major uptick in vaccination rates. By enforcing vaccine requirements, these companies are doing their part to protect their workers and, in some cases, their customers. They're also doing their part to help bring an end to the pandemic so that life on a whole can get back to normal.