Starbucks Just Changed Its Vaccine Policy Again

Starbucks is making headlines today because it walked back on its policy requiring employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to weekly testing, AP News reports. The coffee chain is one of the first major players in the food industry to announce a change in its vaccine policies following last week's U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which blocked the Biden administration's mandate that all companies with more than 100 workers must only employ those who are vaccinated or have COVID-19 tests every week. According to Forbes, the 6-3 vote determined that the original federal requirement was a "'significant encroachment'" into employees' lives and health." 

Starbucks had announced just days before the ruling plans to comply with the mandate, stating that workers would need to reveal their vaccination statuses by January 10 or submit to weekly testing. The company's COO, John Culver, then told employees in a letter, "This is an important step we can take to help more partners get vaccinated, limit the spread of COVID-19, and create choices that partners can own based on what's best for them" (via CNN). Yesterday, Culver sent out a new letter reversing the policy in which he wrote, "We respect the court's ruling and will comply."

What exactly is changing for Starbucks employees?

According to Today, while Starbucks will no longer require mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations or weekly testing for employees, the coffee chain is still "strongly encouraging" vaccinations and also encouraging employees to wear surgical face masks instead of cloth masks for more thorough protection. Of the company's 228,000 U.S. employees, 90% have reported their vaccination status to the company, which says the "vast majority" of workers has reached full vaccination status.

Though Starbucks reversed its original vaccine policy that aligned with the now-halted federal mandate, COO John Culver said the company continues "to believe strongly in the spirit and intent of the mandate" (via The Wall Street Journal). The chain also requests that any employees exposed to COVID-19, whether or not they're vaccinated,  isolate for five paid work days. As of this writing, Starbucks is the first food business to reverse its vaccine policy after the Supreme Court ruling. General Electric stopped requiring employee vaccinations last week.