The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis announced that its employees have until the end of August to get vaccinated against the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19). Employees who remain unvaccinated at the end of the deadline will be fired immediately.
This is according to a press release published by the bank and its president, Neel Kashkari. The new policy will make vaccination status a condition of continued employment. The press release said it will only grant exceptions for employees with medical reasons and sincerely held religious beliefs.
Kashkari said its employees must get used to this “new normal” for the Minneapolis Fed. Future hires will also be subjected to this policy, and unvaccinated potential hires will be rejected outright.
According to the press release, around 90 percent of the Minneapolis Fed’s more than 1,100 employees moved to remote working arrangements when the coronavirus pandemic hit in March 2020. Now, more than a year later, Kashkari wants his workers back in the office, and he believes instituting a vaccine mandate is the only way to do this.
“In order to fulfill our public service mission, we need more face-to-face contact than remote work allows, but there is no way for us to bring a critical mass of our staff back into our facilities and maintain social distancing. Hence, we need our employees to be vaccinated,” said Kashkari.
The press release noted that more than 82 percent of Minneapolis Fed employees – more than 900 people – have already reported to the bank that they are fully vaccinated. The remaining 18 percent have either not indicated their vaccination plans or said they do not want to get vaccinated.
The Minneapolis Fed president said the bank’s high vaccination rate made it easy to put out a mandate for the remaining unvaccinated individuals.
“We recognize that if our vaccination rate were lower, say 50 percent, this would be a more difficult decision. But with so many of our employees voluntarily doing their part to keep us safe, asking our remaining colleagues to also do their part just makes sense,” he said. “While some staff may be unhappy with this new requirement, we believe most will appreciate the actions we are taking on our collective behalf.”
Kashkari added that he was compelled to do this after he received multiple comments from some of his staff. He said some of his employees were nervous about returning to work in the Fed’s offices if their colleagues remained unvaccinated.
“That for me personally was very persuasive,” he said in an interview with Minnesota newspaper Star Tribune.
The Minneapolis Fed will start bringing employees back to the office in waves starting in September. Employees who are able to acquire vaccination waivers for medical or religious reasons will be forced to wear masks in the office and maintain social distance at all times.
Moving forward, Kashkari said the Minneapolis Fed will provide employees with more flexibility regarding their work arrangements but will stop short of allowing workers to go fully remote.
“We are losing something by being almost fully remote,” he wrote in the press release.
Kashkari’s colleagues in 11 other Fed banks not implementing vaccine mandates
Kashkari’s announcement is being received as a “high-profile move” at a time when many other employers are providing incentives to get their employees vaccinated but are all stopping short of implementing mandates.
Even Kashkari’s colleagues in the 11 other Federal Reserve banks have stated that they were only encouraging their workers to get vaccinated but are not making it a condition of continued employment.
In the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis in Missouri, a spokeswoman said employees are not required to get vaccinated but must report their vaccination status to the bank if they do decide to get the vaccine.
“This allows the St. Louis Fed to comply with [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidance on who needs to quarantine and for how long if they become exposed to COVID. The Bank is following CDC guidance requiring mask-wearing, social distancing and other protocols.”
Kashkari believes the law regarding vaccinations is on his side. He noted that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has confirmed that employees can require COVID-19 vaccinations as a condition of continued employment.
“So we believe we’re on very solid legal ground,” he said.
The Minneapolis Fed is one of the first large employers in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metropolitan area to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for its employees. Many other large employers are still debating the issue. The problem with Kashkari’s decision is that it might help other businesses decide that vaccine mandates are the way to go.