Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google
Google is implementing a new Covid-19 testing policy for its US workplaces as it prepares for a continued increase in infections from the Omicron variant in the coming weeks.
In an email sent to full-time employees Thursday and obtained by CNBC, Google Health Director Karen DiSalvo said anyone who comes into contact with a Google office or facility will need a negative molecular test. The memo said they must also report their vaccination status and wear surgical-grade masks while in the office.
“The variant Omicron became the dominant strain in the then United States and is highly transmissible,” DeSalvo wrote. “There’s been a spike in infections across the country, and hospitals are overcrowded with COVID patients – reducing their ability to provide care to others who need it.”
Google has recently been stricter than its tech peers in implementing Covid-19 safety measures among workers. Last month, the company told employees they must comply with vaccination policies or face lost wages and eventual job losses. This was a shift by executives, who said just a few months ago that the company would not order vaccines.
Several hundred Google employees signed and distributed a statement opposing the company’s expanded Covid-19 vaccine mandate.
When it comes to testing, Google is preparing for a moment like this. In April, Google began offering at-home Covid-19 tests from Cue Health to employees. It is the largest private client of the test company.
Four months later, Google’s cloud division entered into a separate agreement with Cue to develop real-time variant tracking and Covid-19 sequencing, a partnership that gives Google unique access to test data and variants.
“We expect this to continue over the next few weeks,” DiSalvo wrote, adding that the new testing rule is temporary. “During this period of increased risk, we are making it a matter of policy to have a weekly molecular test (such as PCR and Cue) if you are going to come into the office.”
DeSalvo reminded employees that Google offers free options for in-house and in-person viral testing for both full-time employees and its extended workforce, which includes temporary employees, vendors and contractors. A recent report from Bloomberg said that Google’s extended workforce has longer wait times for test results than full-time workers.
In an email to CNBC, a Google spokesperson said the company is “implementing temporary new health and safety measures for anyone accessing our US locations,” and is developing policies to make “workplaces and communities as safe as possible.”
DeSalvo said the molecular tests will help relieve pressure on clinics, schools and pharmacies, which have struggled to keep supplies of rapid antigen testing in stock.
Google has over 150,000 full-time employees and roughly the same number of contractors and suppliers. As of mid-December, executives said the company had so far opened 90% of its US offices, and in recent weeks nearly 40% of its US employees have gone to a facility at some point.
Google had expected its workforce to return to physical offices starting in January, but it backtracked on its plans last month, citing concerns about infection rates. However, executives did not name Omicron at the time and encouraged employees to continue to come “where conditions permit.”
The Supreme Court is going in the opposite direction
As Google works to bolster its states, federal rules seem to be going in the opposite direction. The Supreme Court on Thursday blocked the Biden administration from imposing blanket vaccine or testing requirements on large private companies. The mandate required that workers at companies with 100 or more employees be vaccinated or submit a negative Covid test weekly to enter the workplace with a Jan. 18 deadline.
Google executives have used federal requirements as an explanation to enforce its internal policies, arguing that the company’s extensive work with government means everyone must comply regardless of whether or not they come to the office.
Google told employees in December that those who had not complied with vaccination rules by January 18, would be placed on “administrative paid leave” for 30 days. After that, they will be given “unpaid personal leave” for up to six months, followed by termination of service.
DeSalvo’s note added more specific guidance about safety in light of Omicron’s increase.
She advised staff to use a non-cloth mask or a “high-quality surgical mask”. She also said they should stay home if they are unwell, even if it is “just an allergy”. DeSalvo recommended that employees get tested as close to the time of the event or office appearance as possible.
“You may not have any symptoms, but you can still spread Covid-19 to others,” she wrote, adding that vaccinated staff should get a booster dose “as soon as possible” if they haven’t already.
He watches: Google employees lose their salaries and eventually their jobs if they don’t follow the vaccination rules