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Starbucks opts not to require worker vaccinations

The coffee giant, which earlier announced plans to require vaccines or tests, is now encouraging inoculation after the Supreme Court killed the federal mandate.
Starbucks vaccine mandate
Photo courtesy of Starbucks

Starbucks this week walked back its requirement that workers get COVID vaccinations or regular tests, opting to do away with the prerequisite after the Supreme Court pulled the rug out from under the proposed federal vaccine mandate.

“We respect the court’s ruling and will comply,” Chief Operating Officer John Culver told the company’s U.S. employees.

The company had earlier told U.S. employees that they had to be vaccinated by Feb. 9 or submit to weekly COVID testing at their own cost before they are to start work. In his letter this week, Culver said 90% of the chain’s U.S. employees have disclosed their vaccination, and “the vast majority” are now fully vaccinated.

But Starbucks’ vaccination requirement simply followed the federal vaccine mandate that had been imposed by the Biden Administration through the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA.

The Supreme Court effectively turned back the mandate earlier this month, saying that it overstepped OSHA’s mandate. But the ruling did not say employers could not require vaccinations themselves, and indeed some companies have opted to keep their mandates. The clothing maker Carhartt, for instance, said it would continue mandating worker vaccinations.

Restaurant chains have generally been reluctant to require vaccines, in part because of concerns that they would lose out on prospective employees by doing so. The industry is dealing with an unprecedented shortage of employees that has left many of them without enough workers to remain open.

The shortage is clearly affecting Starbucks locations. The brand last week warned customers that its restaurants may not be open as often as they should—and in the process said that loyalty points customers earned would not expire until April.

In his letter, Culver said the company “continue to believe strongly in the spirit and intent of the mandate.” Yet rather than require the vaccinations the company would “strongly encourage” vaccinations and boosters and would also “strongly encourage disclosure” of vaccination status.

The company said that it would continue to provide workers with self-isolation pay, vaccine pay, booster pay and pay for when workers are out sick because of side effects.

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