Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

Citi Shows Leadership by Enforcing Vaccine Mandate

Citi Shows Leadership by Enforcing Vaccine Mandate

Monday, 10 January, 2022 - 05:15

Last October, Citigroup Inc. told about 70,000 of its employees to get Covid-19 vaccinations or lose their jobs. Today, the banking giant made good on that promise, telling its staff that any who remain unvaccinated by Jan. 14 will be placed on unpaid leave and then lose their jobs at month’s end.

“As it has become crystal clear that COVID-19 will not be going away any time soon, our leadership at Citi has thought long and hard about how we navigate the latest stages of the pandemic,” Sara Wechter, Citi’s human resources director noted in an October memo, citing two reasons for the bank’s decision. “First, as the US government is a large and important client of Citi, we have an obligation to comply with the Executive Order issued by the White House mandating that individuals supporting government contracts be fully vaccinated — an order that would impact the vast majority of our US colleagues. Second, having a vaccinated workforce enables us to ensure the health and safety of our colleagues as we return to the office in the US.”

All of this is sensible, responsible and a measure of good leadership from Citi’s chief executive officer, Jane Fraser. Such leadership has been in short supply in corporate America — not only in financial services but in other industries as well. (United Airlines Holdings Inc.’s CEO, Scott Kirby, has provided exemplary leadership on vaccines and also stands apart from other airline executives who have fumbled this.)

Citi is showing the door to vaccination holdouts on the same day that the US Supreme Court is hearing arguments challenging the Biden administration’s push to require testing and vaccination in workplaces of 100 or more people. Petitioners from around the country have said the White House is exceeding its emergency authority and stretching the limits of its regulatory authority by authorizing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to enforce mandates. The White House says, correctly, that it is merely deploying robust and necessary public health measures.

As Citi shows, however, private companies don’t need the federal government’s blessing to do the right thing. Citi, United and others in the private and public sectors have pushed ahead on their own to protect workers, their colleagues and customers. It remains to be seen how the Supreme Court will clarify the messy and cynical legal thinking that has gummed this up; Friday’s arguments suggest the justices don’t look favorably on Biden’s mandates.

Some Citi workers have complained vociferously about the bank’s policy, and perhaps a meaningful number of them will quit. But about 90% of Citigroup’s employees have already complied, and the bank is allowing religious or medical exemptions for some. (United’s vaccination rate is close to 100%, and the airline was tough-minded about opening any loopholes to workers trying to get around its rules. Tyson Foods Inc. tells a similar story.)

Citi shouldn’t have to worry about mass departures. According to Bloomberg News, which broke the story about the bank’s vaccination deadline, surveys suggest that only 3% of employers with mandates have experienced a surge in resignations. As United saw, a little counseling from fellow workers, the recognition that a good job is worth keeping and a shared sense of responsibility kept departures to a minimum.

Citi is based in a Covid-19 epicenter, New York City, where the human and economic costs of vaccine denialism have been on display for nearly two years. That reality has traveled around the rest of the country too, of course, and the business community should continue to be clear and bold about how to battle back. Mandates work.


Other opinion articles

Editor Picks