Nike and Columbia Sportswear plan to start laying off unvaccinated employees

Nike informed some employees that it planned to fire them on Saturday because they failed to meet the company’s deadline for verifying their COVID-19 vaccinations and did not receive an exemption for reasons religious or medical.

Columbia Sportswear has announced plans to take similar action and will begin laying off unvaccinated employees on February 1.

Legal challenges, including a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Thursday stopping a COVID-19 vaccine rule to target big business, have derailed most government vaccine mandates. Lawyers, however, generally agree that private employers are free to enact vaccination mandates, regardless of the court ruling. And that’s what Nike and Columbia Sportswear are doing, laying off employees who haven’t demonstrated compliance.

“You have failed to complete the verification process and our records show that you do not have (exemption) approval,” read an email Nike sent to an employee this week. last. “As a result, you are not in compliance with the policy and your employment is to be terminated on Saturday, January 15, 2022.”

Employees say a group of 120 Nike employees who oppose the vaccine mandate have communicated online, but it’s unclear how many of them are actually unvaccinated or how many are fired. Some are reporting that Nike granted at least a few last-minute exemptions.

Nike is Oregon’s largest company and one of the state’s biggest employers, with about 14,000 workers assigned to its headquarters near Beaverton. The vast majority of those employees have been working remotely since the onset of COVID-19, but Nike said it hopes to bring most of them back to the office as the pandemic subsides.

Richelle Luther, director of human resources for Columbia Sportswear, said the Portland company will begin laying off unvaccinated employees next month. She declined to disclose how many would lose their jobs, but said it was a relatively low number.

Nike wants people back in the office and seems to see vaccines as a way to get there. In a Dec. 14 memo, Monique Matheson, the company’s human resources director, said Nike hopes employees will return to the office part-time starting this month.

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The omicron variant has delayed those plans indefinitely, according to employees, but Matheson’s memo makes it clear that Nike’s priority is getting people back to the office. The company has completed a huge expansion of its headquarters campus, with a price tag approaching $1 billion.

“We think we’re better off together,” she wrote, according to a copy of the memo obtained by The Oregonian/OregonLive. She notes that retail and warehouse workers have been working in person for most of the pandemic.

And she says an employee survey found that 89% of employees understand the company’s vaccination policy and 78% are “proud of our stance on vaccines”.

“By the time we are all together in person, we expect to have over 99% of our U.S. corporate employees fully immunized—a great team effort!” Matheson wrote.

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