Monday, 25 Oct 2021

Can Companies Require Vaccination, and Should They?

Employers are debating the pros and cons of mandating workers to get vaccinated.

By Andrew Ross Sorkin, Jason Karaian, Sarah Kessler, Michael J. de la Merced, Lauren Hirsch and Ephrat Livni

Health advocate, or Big Brother?

As companies make plans to fully reopen their offices across the U.S., some in a matter of weeks, they face a delicate decision. Many would like all employees to be vaccinated when they return, but in the face of legal and P.R. risks, few employers have gone so far as to require it, Gillian Friedman and DealBook’s Lauren Hirsch report for The Times. Instead, they are hoping that encouragement and incentives will suffice.

There have been a few false starts. In January, the United Airlines chief Scott Kirby said he’d like to require all of the company’s employees to get vaccines, calling it “the right thing to do.” Months later, no decisions have been made. In February, the investment bank Jefferies sent a memo to employees saying they would need proof of vaccination to enter its office; a few weeks later, a follow-up note clarified that “We did not intend to make it sound as if we are mandating vaccines.”

Legally, requiring vaccines is probably (mostly) fine. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued guidance in December stating that employers are legally permitted to require employees to be vaccinated. But companies are still worried about litigation, in part because several states have proposed laws that would limit their ability to require vaccines. Some of those restrictions pertain only to vaccines that, like those for Covid, have been granted only emergency authorization by the Food and Drug Administration. Pfizer and BioNTech became the first companies to apply for full approval of their Covid-19 vaccine today, and others are expected to follow suit.

“It would seem to me that employers are going to find themselves in a fairly strong position legally,” said Eric Feldman, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, “but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to get sued.”

Companies would rather not deal with the headaches of making vaccines mandatory. Douglas Brayley, a partner at Ropes & Gray, said the implications of enforcing a vaccine policy are one of the main things he tells companies to consider: “What if 10 percent of your work force refuses? Are you prepared to lay off that 10 percent? Or what if it’s someone high-level or in a key role, would you be prepared to impose consequences? And then they sometimes get more nervous.”

Companies are resorting to carrots over sticks. Darden offers hourly employees two hours of pay for each dose they receive. Target offers a $5 coupon to all customers and employees who receive their vaccination at a CVS at Target location. And many companies are hosting on-site clinics to make it easier to get vaccinated.

Others are experimenting with return-to-work policies that aren’t all or nothing. Salesforce will allow up to 100 fully vaccinated employees to volunteer to work together on designated floors of certain U.S. offices. Some companies are mandating the shots only for new hires.

What do you think? Should companies require employees to get vaccinated before they return to the workplace? Let us know: dealbook@nytimes.com. Include your name and location and we may feature your response in a future newsletter.

HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING

The Fed and the S.E.C. are worried about GameStop and Archegos. Among the biggest risks the central bank cited in its latest financial stability report were an increased appetite for risk — exemplified by the meme-stock frenzy — and hidden hedge-fund debts. Market transparency was also an issue that Gary Gensler called a priority in his first Congressional testimony as S.E.C. chairman.

The push to suspend vaccine patents has a long way to go. European leaders remain cool to the proposal as a way to combat the pandemic. Meanwhile, regulators on three continents are testing their stockpiles of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine amid contamination concerns at a Baltimore plant.

The end of an era for Carl Icahn and Herbalife. The billionaire has sold his final stake in the nutritional supplements company, according to CNBC. That closes out a nearly decade-long investment that Icahn initially made to oppose a short position by Bill Ackman, which led to a memorable on-air confrontation. Ackman later folded his bet, and Icahn made an estimated $1.3 billion.

A vast astroturfing campaign against net neutrality is uncovered. Broadband companies funded a campaign to submit millions of fake comments in support of an F.C.C. proposal to repeal protections for internet content, according to New York’s attorney general. Nearly 80 percent of all public comments submitted were phony, the investigation found.

What to watch for as Elon Musk hosts “S.N.L.” Crypto enthusiasts are hoping that the Tesla chief will mention Dogecoin on “Saturday Night Live” tomorrow, potentially propelling its price to even more dizzying heights. His controversial appearance may also prompt some cast members to sit out the episode.

Remembering David Swensen

David Swensen, the money manager who turned Yale University into an investment powerhouse, died on Wednesday at the age of 67. The cause was kidney cancer, which he had since 2012. A flood of tributes have noted how he inspired endowments around the world to put their money into private equity, hedge funds and more — and transformed them into financial giants.

Swensen co-created the “Yale model,” after realizing that the university’s endowment could perform better by investing in more than just stocks and bonds. A veteran of Wall Street firms before taking over the Yale endowment in 1985 — and taking an 80 percent pay cut — Swensen pushed the school to invest in so-called alternative assets like hedge funds and even timberland.

His insight was “a combination of common sense (don’t put all your eggs in one basket) and finance theory (diversification is a free lunch),” he told The Times in a 2014 interview.

The results speak for themselves. Yale’s endowment has grown from $1.3 billion in 1985 to more than $31 billion today, trailing only Harvard’s in size. Over 20 years, the school posted a nearly 10 percent annual return, surpassed only by three other institutions — all led by Yale alumni. And as Axios’s Felix Salmon points out, the hedge fund, private equity and venture capital industries exploded in size as the Yale model grew popular. When Swensen took over, more than three-quarters of Yale’s endowment was held in stocks, bonds and cash; now, these account for only a quarter of its investments.

Yale’s success inspired others to follow Swensen into riskier assets, often unsuccessfully: “If you get it wrong, that can be very costly,” the consultant Anna Dunn told Institutional Investor in 2019. “You can put yourself in a big hole relative to your peers.”

Some of the tributes to Swensen:

“David’s ideas reverberated beyond Yale as he revolutionized the landscape of institutional investing,” said Peter Salovey, Yale’s president.

“The really great painters are the ones that change how other people paint, like Picasso,” said Charles Ellis, the former chairman of Yale’s endowment. “David Swensen changed how everyone who is serious about investing thinks about investing.”

“Ninety percent of my good ideas on how to organize the office and develop a culture, I’ve stolen from Yale,” said Andrew Golden, Princeton’s endowment chief, who worked at Yale in the 1980s.

Latest Updates

“Blowing up a mountain isn’t green, no matter how much marketing spin people put on it.”

— Max Wilbert, who has been living in a tent on the proposed site of a large-scale lithium mine in Nevada. Native American groups, ranchers and environmentalists are trying to block the project, arguing that the production of raw materials necessary to meet the demand for electric cars is often ruinous to land, water, wildlife and people.

Weekend reading: ‘E’ is not for easy

Environmental, social and governance issues are increasingly important for companies, and a decision in one of the three aspects of so-called E.S.G. often has implications for the others. The more that board members can see these connections, the more likely they’ll act in society’s interest, argues the economist and author Dambisa Moyo, who also sits on the boards of 3M and Chevron. The same goes for stakeholders who want companies to be better citizens.

Moyo spoke with DealBook about her new book, “How Boards Work: And How They Can Work Better in a Chaotic World.” The interview had been edited and condensed for clarity.

DealBook: What do people misunderstand about how boards work?

Moyo: People’s perception is quite facile but it’s important to understand the array of issues and what levers they actually have, the complexity and range of decisions board members face and their limits. In my time on boards in different industries and countries, I’ve seen almost every crisis except bankruptcy, along with the rise of the E.S.G. agenda.

What’s the most important attribute in a board member?

Good judgment. You can’t be dogmatic. You have to be flexible and pragmatic.

How is running a company different today than before?

Corporations have always been part of the communities and societies they operated in. But in areas where the government was leading before, for a whole host of reasons, companies have been stepping up, for example with E.S.G. issues.

What’s the story with E.S.G.?

People often don’t realize how the different goals interact or create second-order problems. For example, when students at Oxford University constantly encourage the endowment to defund energy companies, they don’t think about the 1.5 billion people in the world who still don’t have access to power, and how that influences diversity and inclusion. They see no connection. But the kids from energy-poor countries are not going to make it to Oxford that way.

Is it all too complex?

I’m very optimistic we can get there. We need to be less hasty and more innovative. I do think we need to create some kind of framework that supports society and has teeth. And, most importantly, that’s sustainable.

THE SPEED READ

Deals

Walmart agreed to buy the telehealth provider MeMD to bolster its virtual health care services. (WSJ)

Private equity firms are clubbing up again on huge leveraged buyouts, with the sale of medical supply company Medline likely to fetch over $30 billion. (Bloomberg)

The activist investor Edward Bramson has sold his entire stake in Barclays, conceding defeat in a yearslong fight to shake up the British lender. (FT)

Politics and policy

Shareholders of Duke Energy approved a resolution for greater disclosure on political donations, another victory in a campaign by New York State’s public pension fund. (Charlotte Observer)

Massachusetts sued a division of the ad giant Publicis, accusing it of creating deceptive advertising for Purdue Pharma that exacerbated the opioid crisis. (Reuters)

Tech

Citigroup is weighing the rollout of cryptocurrency services like trading and custody to clients. (FT)

Twitter launched a new feature to let users send money via its service, but there are some privacy issues. (CNBC, @RachelTobac)

Speaking of Twitter, it stopped Donald Trump’s latest effort to rejoin its platform. (Insider)

Best of the rest

UBS’s chairman, Axel Weber, said the Swiss bank should appoint a woman as his successor when he steps down next year. (Bloomberg)

Melinda Gates reportedly warned Bill Gates about associating with Jeffrey Epstein shortly after they met the financier in 2013. (The Daily Beast)

“The hardest people to let go are the ones you know.” A C.E.O. highlights the career risks for employees who don’t return to the office. (WaPo Opinion)

We’d like your feedback! Please email thoughts and suggestions to dealbook@nytimes.com.

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