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Starbucks drops employee vaccine mandate

Zhang Peng/LightRocket via Getty Images

Starbucks is scrapping its planned employee vaccine mandate in response to the Supreme Court's decision to block some of the Biden administration's COVID-19 vaccine requirements from taking effect.

In a memo reported by the Associated Press, the Seattle-based coffee chain said unvaccinated workers will be able to keep their jobs because of the court's decision.

“We respect the court’s ruling and will comply,” Starbucks Chief Operating Officer John Culver wrote to employees.

The reversal comes a little more than two weeks after Starbucks announced a plan to require all employees to be vaccinated by Feb. 9 or be subjected to weekly virus testing. The announcement was made on Jan. 3 and required all of the company's 229,000 U.S. employees to disclose their vaccination status by Jan. 10.

Starbucks said Wednesday that 90% of its employees reported their vaccination status, and that the "vast majority" of workers are fully vaccinated, the AP reported.

Employees would have been required to receive either two shots of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson booster. Anyone who declined to get the shots would have had to pay for the cost of virus testing themselves. Those who applied for a religious or medical exemption would still have had to get tested.

At the time, Culver said company leadership was responsible for doing "whatever we can to help keep you safe and create the safest work environment possible."

President Joe Biden had ordered that employers with more than 100 employees be required to have their workers vaccinated or regularly tested for the virus. But on Jan. 13, the Supreme Court blocked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's temporary emergency standards imposing the federal vaccine mandate from taking effect. In a 6-3 decision, the court majority said OSHA lacked the authority to impose such requirements.

But the Biden administration continues to urge employers to comply with their proposed requirements anyway. Some large companies have already done so. The Washington Post reported that the apparel company Carhartt will continue to make vaccines mandatory for employees.

Citigroup will also move forward with its vaccine mandate, but General Electric said last week it will not, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Starbucks will reportedly continue to strongly encourage employees to get vaccinations and booster shots. The company is also asking workers to stop wearing cloth masks and instead use medical-grade surgical masks to mitigate the potential spread of COVID-19.

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