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September 10, 2021updated 30 Sep 2022 10:34am

Delta delays office return for US news giants – mask and vaccine policies vary

By William Turvill

The Delta variant of Covid-19 has forced many of America’s largest newsrooms to delay their return-to-office plans indefinitely.

Out of eight US newsgroups surveyed by Press Gazette, none have yet compelled employees to return to their desks, although all are open to optional returns.

Some large news companies, including Reuters, are currently planning to implement return-to-office plans in October. But none of the groups spoken to by Press Gazette are yet planning for a full return.

Policies on vaccination, proof of vaccination and masks vary between the publishers we surveyed (the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, Gannett, Los Angeles Times, Reuters, BDG Media and Buzzfeed).

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The New York Times previously said employees would start to return to the office this month for at least three days a week.

However, while staff can work in the office on a voluntary basis with proof of vaccination, the NYT has now delayed its formal return indefinitely.

“In light of the evolution of the virus, including new trends around the Delta variant, we have decided to push out our plans for a full return,” a spokesperson told Press Gazette.

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“A number of offices are open for voluntary return, and anyone wishing to return to a US Times office during the extended voluntary period is required to submit proof of vaccination and adhere to our indoor mask mandate.

“We will provide further updates to our return to office plans and health and safety protocols once we announce an expected return date.”

The Wall Street Journal has also been allowing staff to work from some of its offices voluntarily.

On Monday 13 September, it will be freeing up more office space in the US for employees who wish to return. Desks need to be booked in advance of arrival. This date was pushed back by one week. 

The Journal’s staff do not have to be vaccinated to return to the office. But unvaccinated employees will be required to show a negative Covid-19 test from the past seven days. All staff are required to fill out a brief health questionnaire before coming into the office each day.

Unvaccinated staff must also wear masks at all times within the office. Vaccinated Journal employees are encouraged to wear masks in common areas and, in some offices, masks will be compulsory for all depending on local regulations.

Associated Press previously set its return-to-office date for mid-September, but this has been put back indefinitely.

Upon return, staff will be asked to come into the office for three days a week – Tuesday, Wednesday and a day of their choice – a spokesperson told Press Gazette.

AP is yet to decide whether staff will be required to be vaccinated, and mask rules will depend on official guidance on the date of return.

Gannett, the publisher of USA Today and hundreds of local newspaper titles, does not have a return-to-office date set currently.

Samantha Howland, Gannett’s chief people officer, said: “While operational areas of the Gannett business, such our production and circulation facilities, have remained open and operational, we have maintained a voluntary return to office and require masks.

“We are planning a flexible workplace model that aligns with our values and commitment to our employees and the communities we serve as we assess plans to return to the office.

“Gannett is following CDC guidelines and abiding by federal, state and local laws as well as guidance from the US Department of Labor and OSHA.

“We strongly encourage employees to take advantage of the Covid-19 vaccinations, but it is not a requirement.”

Some Los Angeles Times employees have been working from offices throughout the pandemic. And another small group of staff returned in early July.

A spokesperson told Press Gazette: “We have a phased approach, with a couple of additional phases planned before we get to full capacity for the long term, but future phases are currently on hold because of what’s happening with the Delta variant.”

LA Times employees who have voluntarily worked from the office, or visited the office, “are required to attest to being vaccinated”. Mask-wearing and social distancing rules are also in place in the office.

Reuters’ US offices are currently open for employees who wish to return. Masks are mandatory in common areas, including meeting rooms and when social distancing is not possible.

Its formal return-to-office date is currently set for 1 October, when staff would return for two or three days per week.

Reuters is “strongly encouraging our employees to be vaccinated as soon as they are able”, a spokesperson told Press Gazette. The company is giving staff paid time off to receive their vaccines and is reimbursing expenses for transportation to vaccination sites.

BDG Media, the owner of Bustle, Gawker, Elite Daily and other digital publications, is “formally welcoming employees back into its offices”, chief people officer Trisha Dearborn told Press Gazette.

“Working from our space is voluntary, and we are offering both hybrid and remote options for employees. We will continue to monitor the local circumstances and adjust our plans accordingly.”

In the future, she said, “we foresee most hybrid employees will work two-three days a week in the office”.

Employees returning to the office now are required to share proof of vaccination but masks are not compulsory.

Buzzfeed, which also owns HuffPost, does not have a formal return-to-office date set currently. A spokesperson said the company is “looking at the New Year earliest”.

“Each department will have a different amount of recommended days to return depending on their team’s needs.”

Outside of our survey of eight publishers, similar patterns are emerging.

The Washington Post last week told staff that it was making its 18 October return date voluntary. Its mandatory return date has now been moved to 10 January 2022, according to a memo leaked to CNN’s Oliver Darcy.

CNN said last month that it was postponing its 7 September return-to-office date and is now targeting mid-October.

Vaccinated employees can work from the office voluntarily and, as of early August, more than a third of news employees were working from the office, according to Associated Press.

Last month, CNN fired three employees for violating its company policy by coming to work unvaccinated.

Top photo credit: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

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