Starbucks drops vaccine-or-test requirement; adds new COVID protocols

Marianne Wilson
Marianne Wilson profile picture
Starbucks is dropping its vaccine—or-test requirement for workers.

Starbucks has changed course on its vaccine mandate for employees following the decision last week by the Supreme Court to block the Biden administration’s vaccine-or-test rule for large businesses.

“While the [Emergency Temporary Standard] is now paused, I want to emphasize that we continue to believe strongly in the spirit and intent of the mandate,” John Culver, group president North America and COO, Starbucks, wrote in a letter to employees.  

In early January, Starbucks said its U.S. employees had to disclose their vaccination status by Jan. 10.  It said that employees who choose not to be fully vaccinated by Feb. 9, when enforcement of the federal vaccine mandate for companies with 100 or more employees was scheduled to begin, would have to present a negative COVID-19 test and be tested weekly.

In his letter, Culver said Starbucks will still strongly encourage employees to get vaccinated and to disclose their vaccination status. More than 90% of workers have already disclosed if they have been vaccinated, and the “vast majority” have been fully vaccinated, according to Culver. The company will continue to offer two hours of paid time off for getting the shots.

Starbucks also announced several new Covid-19 safety protocols. Employees must wear a three-ply medical grade mask, including a N95, KN95 or KF94, at work. Cloth masks will no longer be allowed.

In addition, isolation guidelines have been expanded to cover any employees who has been exposed to COVID-19, have symptoms or have tested positive — even if they are fully vaccinated. The employees will be eligible for Starbucks’ self-isolation pay for missed shifts.

Starbucks’s decision to drop its vaccine requirement comes as the coffee giant is confronted with a growing unionization effort.

[Read More: More Starbucks stores begin move to unionize — in the U.S. and Canada]