By Aaron Saldanha and Matt Scuffham
NEW YORK – JPMorgan Chase & Co instructed unvaccinated staff in Manhattan to work from home starting Tuesday, a further sign that banks and other financial firms are tightening protocols as COVID-19 infections rise and the Omicron variant spreads.
The U.S. bank, one of the most aggressive in bringing employees back to the office, previously allowed unvaccinated staff to work in its Manhattan offices provided they were tested twice a week.
In a memo to staff on Monday announcing the policy change, the bank urged unvaccinated staff to get vaccinated and for eligible employees to get booster shots. It also relaxed mask requirements for vaccinated staff working in its Manhattan offices.
“We continue to agree with health authorities that being vaccinated against COVID-19 is the best way to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe – especially as we face the winter months and a new variant – so please consider getting vaccinated if you aren’t already, and getting your booster if you are,” the memo said.
Most other banks already required staff to be vaccinated to enter their facilities.
Bank of America has around 60% to 70% of staff back in the office, Chief Executive Brian Moynihan said in an interview with CNBC Tuesday.
“We focused on getting our teammates safe and vaccinated and back to work when they were ready,” he said. “We didn’t want people to operate in a hamstrung environment.”
U.S. financial firms have been more proactive than other industries in encouraging employees to return to offices. But the recent surge in cases has caused some to rethink their strategies.
Many companies are struggling with COVID precautions, given they can often prove divisive. Some are reluctant to ask staff to return to offices when measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing – which undermine the benefits of congregating in person – are still in place, consultants say.
“Having everybody vaccinated works — it prevents tragedies,” said Andy Challenger, a senior vice president at outplacement and executive-coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
New York State’s Department of Health issued a mask mandate effective Monday requiring any individual entering an office that does not require vaccination to wear a mask at all times.
“It seems unfair to require our vaccinated employees to wear masks all day at their desks, and would be a step that would slow the progress we’ve already made toward business normalcy,” JPMorgan said in the memo.
More than 90% of JPMorgan staff based in Manhattan are vaccinated, according to the memo.
Vaccinated staff will now have to wear face coverings only when walking through lobbies, riding in elevators and in cafes when not eating.
The bank added that the memo does not apply to branch staff, who “will continue to follow their established procedures and protocols.”
Other banks and financial firms have been taking steps to protect staff as infection and hospitalization rates increase in New York and other states.
Last week, investment bank Jefferies Financial Group asked staff to work from home again due to a spate of COVID-19 cases.
Asset management firm Fidelity Investments on Monday said it had paused some voluntary return-to-office plans.
(Additional reporting by Liz Dilts and David Henry; Editing by Dan Grebler, Bill Berkrot and Cynthia Osterman)