For months, JPMorgan Chase has maintained a curious stance on in-person work wherein the bank was among Wall Street’s first to reopen its offices (as early as May 17), yet remained relatively laissez-faire regarding employee vaccinations.
Fellow office-return hard charger Morgan Stanley began restricting unvaccinated employees, clients and visitors from entering its New York City and Westchester County offices in mid-July. Even Citi — which in March proposed a hybrid work schedule that would continue for most employees after the COVID-19 pandemic — moved in October to make vaccination a requirement for its 65,000 U.S. employees.
Meanwhile, JPMorgan allowed unvaccinated employees to work from its offices as long as they were tested for COVID-19 twice a week.
JPMorgan Chase also told unvaccinated employees to work from home temporarily until "alternative solutions are considered," according to the memo, which staff received Monday.
The turnabout comes in response to a New York State Department of Health mandate, effective Monday, that requires people to wear masks at all times when inside buildings where vaccination is not compulsory.
"With [vaccination] rates well above 90%, it seems unfair to require our vaccinated employees to wear masks all day at their desks, and would be a step that would slow the progress we’ve already made toward business normalcy," JPMorgan said in the memo, explaining the decision.
The amended policy does not apply to branch staff, who "will continue to follow their established procedures and protocols," the bank said. However, the change will allow people in the affected buildings to relax mask guidelines. Employees there will be required to wear face coverings only when walking through lobbies, riding in elevators and sitting in cafes when not eating, according to the memo.
It’s not the only concession the rise of COVID-19’s omicron variant has forced the nation’s largest bank to make this week.
JPMorgan on Wednesday said it would move its annual healthcare conference, set for Jan. 10-13, to a virtual setting "out of an abundance of caution," according to emails seen by CNBC and The Wall Street Journal.
The move came after at least two biotech giants — Moderna and Amgen — said they wouldn’t fly their employees to attend the San Francisco event in person.
A top executive at another biotech firm — outgoing CEO John Maraganore of Alnylam Pharmaceuticals — tweeted Tuesday that the conference "should go virtual to avoid a super-spreader event and a PR disaster for our industry!" Maraganore noted he wouldn’t be attending this year regardless.
The conference, known for its deal-making potential, went virtual for its last iteration, too. The bank, in its memo to clients, said, "We were not only hopeful to meet in-person but also understand how much this conference means to the San Francisco community, which we fully support."
COVID-19 infection rates have jumped 47% across California since Thanksgiving, Bloomberg reported, noting that San Francisco was the site of the U.S.’s first confirmed omicron variant case.
"The health and safety of our clients and employees is of the utmost importance and given the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, we have made this decision," the bank said.
Conference sessions will be streamed via webcasts "and will take place in Eastern Time," JPMorgan said, noting that attendees would have been required to be vaccinated and masked indoors when the event was planned to be held in person.
That JPMorgan’s change of heart would come at the hands of companies working to solve the pandemic is not without its tinge of irony
Jamie Dimon, the bank’s CEO, has long bemoaned remote work, asserting in May that it "doesn't work for those who want to hustle."
Dimon told wealth-management clients in April that corporate America may be "overdoing it a bit" in its reluctance to return to the office.
Dimon’s own travel history appears to back up his words. The CEO received an exemption to Hong Kong’s quarantine policy last month when he visited the city for less than 36 hours to thank in person the bank’s 4,000 employees based there. Hong Kong typically requires travelers to quarantine for up to three weeks.
A month earlier, Dimon held a conference call — while waiting to meet Queen Elizabeth II in London — to tell JPMorgan wealth advisers of changes to the bank’s pay structure.