WarnerMedia Sets Covid Vaccine Requirement For U.S. Employees; Offices To Reopen Sept. 6 But “No Expectation” For In-Office Work, Per CEO Jason Kilar

WarnerMedia will require its U.S. employees or anyone entering one of its offices to be vaccinated against Covid-19, the company has announced.

Along with the vaccine policy, which matches that of several large U.S. companies, the AT&T division will also reopen its offices on September 6. In a memo to employees, CEO Jason Kilar emphasized that there will be “no expectation” for workers to be in offices. (See his full note below, along with one from human resources chief Jim Cummings.)

“Broadly speaking, there is no expectation that team members return to the office on that date,” Kilar wrote in his brief email, which closed with him urging workers to get vaccinated. “But we want you to be aware that our U.S. offices will be open and available (and regularly cleaned and serviced) for those teams and/or those individuals that are fully vaccinated and would like to use them.”

Many corporations had been expecting early September to be the point when they could bring large numbers of workers back to the office after the nearly 18-month ordeal of Covid-19. But with the highly contagious Delta variant adding new complications to the pandemic, many plans are being redrawn. Some public and company officials have taken strong stances on vaccines, while some industries — airlines, for example — have seen divided approaches.

New York City, where WarnerMedia is headquartered, is the first major U.S. city to be enacting a vaccine mandate, requiring proof of it for all indoor activities. In addition to restaurants and gyms, the new policy covers indoor entertainment and performances. The New York Film Festival, set to start September 24 at Lincoln Center, will feature mostly indoor events and organizers will require attendees and participants to be vaccinated.

Disney, Walmart, Google and Microsoft are among major U.S. employers recently imposing vaccine requirements on workers and office visitors. AEG Presents, a major U.S. concert promoter, announced a mandate today for its workers as well as performers and fans attending shows starting October 1. CEO Jay Marciano said the company is “aware that there might be some initial pushback, but I’m confident and hopeful that, at the end of the day, we will be on the right side of history.”

WarnerMedia is likely trying to avoid the fate of NBCUniversal, which was hit by three separate outbreaks in L.A. last week. It’s not alone. County officials say workplace outbreaks have skyrocketed from around 20 when the region reopened on June 15 to 200 this week. The number of people hospitalized in Los Angeles County with Covid-19 has also spiked, hitting its highest level since late February on Wednesday, continuing an upward trend that has seen hospitalizations increase by more than 700% since the majority of coronavirus restrictions were lifted statewide in mid-June.

Health officials have repeatedly pointed to the rapid spread of the Delta variant for the increase in cases and hospitalizations, with unvaccinated residents bearing the overwhelming brunt of illnesses. L.A. officials warned that without a significant increase in vaccinations, infections will continue to rise with the proliferation of the highly infections Delta variant of the virus.

Not coincidentally, the Los Angeles City Council voted 13-0 this week to have the city attorney prepare an ordinance requiring people to show proof of at least partial vaccination against Covid to enter most public indoor spaces in the city, including restaurants, bars, gyms, concert venues, movie theaters and even “retail establishments.”

The rate of infections in Atlanta is even higher. While the 7-day average number of cases per 100,000 in Los Angeles is about 22 and in New York is 19, the capital of the Peach State is currently seeing an average of 39.6 new cases per 100,000, according to John’s Hopkins University. That’s 80% higher that L.A. and more than 100% higher than New York. That 7-day average number is considered one of the best indications of community spread.

Here are the full memos from Kilar and Jim Cummings, EVP and Chief Human Resource Officer:

Team –

This email is a follow-up on John Stankey’s recent note to communicate two pieces of information:

    1. Generally speaking, vaccinations will be required in order to return to a WarnerMedia office/work location. There are caveats to this of course (see below), but this is the expectation going forward for the vast majority of our team that will be working in a WarnerMedia office/location.
    2. Many of our U.S. office locations will be open and available for fully vaccinated team member use starting September 6. Broadly speaking, there is no expectation that team members return to the office on that date. But we want you to be aware that our U.S. offices will be open and available (and regularly cleaned and serviced) for those teams and/or those individuals that are fully vaccinated and would like to use them.

I am including a note from Jim Cummings below which shares context, further details and caveats.

Many thanks and please, if you have not already, get vaccinated.

Jason

Hi everyone –

As John mentioned in his note today, we continue to watch the pandemic evolve around us. It’s a familiar phenomenon at this point, but nonetheless troubling. We know there are questions about what all of this means for WarnerMedia, so we wanted to send a brief update on our plans. A few things:

First, as we start to officially reopen our offices in September, we’re going to require proof of vaccination to enter a WarnerMedia office building. Clearly, this will need to reflect what’s possible based on local laws and regulations, as well as vaccine availability. Put differently, we’ll require it where we can, and when vaccines are widely available to all adults. Right now, this applies to all U.S.-based office locations and will be effective September 6. We’re reviewing legal and other issues for all locales outside the U.S. where we have major offices, so please know that we’ll follow up with all of you who aren’t in the U.S. when we have more details. And we’ll also be working with our labor partners to determine how we can address this issue for those employees who are represented by various unions. Again, more to come.

We know there will be many questions about what this means, especially for anyone who needs to be in the office but cannot be vaccinated (e.g., for medical reasons). A few details that we know right now:

·       If you have a medical or religious reason that you can’t be vaccinated, talk to your HR partner and/or visit WarnerMedia One here for more information.

·       As of September 6, all employees who come into our U.S. buildings will need to attest (in Passcard) to the fact that they’ve been fully vaccinated and will need to load a picture of their vaccination card (as proof).

·       The week of August 16, we’ll have vaccine clinics onsite in New York (Hudson Yards), Los Angeles (the Warner Bros. lot) and Atlanta (Techwood) for those who still need to be vaccinated.

·       Also starting in September, all our main offices in the U.S. will be staffed with nurses who can administer COVID tests on site. Those working in other offices in the U.S. can access at-home test kits. You can get information on testing services here.

·       Finally, in addition to being fully vaccinated, as John mentioned, we’re aligning (in the US) with CDC guidance about wearing masks in areas where there’s “significant” or “substantial” spread of the virus (regardless of whether a locality currently requires it).

Second, as of right now, we’re still moving ahead as currently planned with our more official U.S. office openings the week of September 6 (if you have questions about the plan for your location or team/group, please talk to your manager or HR partner). Understandably, there have been a number of questions about whether we would, or should, postpone this. But, if we did, it would raise a host of other questions, including what would trigger when we should go back – and, after that, when we should “shut” the office again if there’s another surge. Ultimately, the bigger question for us and, indeed, the entire world is when and how we start to live with COVID as an endemic reality. Right now, we think the best way to address all of these considerations is to move forward as planned while doing everything we can to mitigate risk – and that, of course, first and foremost requires everyone in the office to be vaccinated. And it also includes the flexibility to work at home. So, we’ll continue to monitor the trends over the next couple weeks.

I realize that this note doesn’t cover all the information you may want or need, or questions that you may have. Please know that we’re working through the details and will share more as we navigate our way through this very new territory. In the meantime, let us know if you have any questions. We’ll get through this together.

Best,

Jim