ViacomCBS has become the first major Hollywood film and television conglom to set a January return date for all employees to return to the office. ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish made the announcement in a company memo Friday, saying that the “Green phase” of the return-to-office process “will now launch no sooner than January 10, 2022.” Everyone entering ViacomCBS’ offices in that phase will have to be fully vaccinated.
ViacomCBS joins tech giants with extensive entertainment divisions Amazon and Apple, which both pushed their returns to the office until at least January last month. (Amazon set a Jan. 3 date for the process to begin.)
Virtually all Hollywood studios and agencies most recently had September and October office return target dates after originally hoping for a summer re-start as the goal post has kept moving amid the ongoing monster Covid surge fueled by the Delta variant. In lieu of a mandatory return date, the companies have opened their offices to employees on a voluntary basis with Covid protocols which generally require vaccinations/regular testing as well as wearing masks in some or all indoor areas. (NBCUniversal is reopening its lot in mid-October, with fully vaccinated staffers encouraged to come in if it makes sense to them.)
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WME did proceed with its plan to have everyone back in the Beverly Hills headquarters on Sept. 7 five days a week, vaccinated as well as wearing a mask in compliance with the Los Angeles County’s indoor mask mandate. The office is currently open with everyone in, vaccinated and masked.
Other major Hollywood companies and talent agencies, including Disney, Netflix, NBCUniversal, Fox Entertainment, CAA, UTA and ICM Partners, have not set firm return-to-office dates. Many of them are floating an early-to-mid January full reopening with a regular or hybrid schedule.
On August 4, Bakish sent a memo notifying employees that “we are delaying the Green Phase of our return – when most of us will come into the office as part of the hybrid model – until October 18, 2021, at the very earliest.”
Here are key portions of Bakish’s new company e-mail from Friday, a copy of which was obtained by Deadline:
Since my last return to office update in early August, we’ve seen the global public health landscape continue to shift due to the impact of the Delta variant. With COVID-19 infections steadily increasing in areas where most ViacomCBS employees are based, we have decided to implement the following policies for all employees at our U.S. locations:
We are now extending the voluntary Yellow phase in the U.S. through the end of 2021, and the Green phase will now launch no sooner than January 10, 2022.
In the Green phase, everyone entering our U.S. offices must be fully vaccinated.
All critical operations and production employees who had previously been permitted to enter our U.S. facilities without being fully vaccinated will now need to be fully vaccinated, no later than November 8, 2021.
This requirement applies to employees in all three of our work models, including fully remote employees who we expect will come into the office occasionally, as well as VCNI employees who come from abroad and all other visitors.
As a reminder, all employees who enter our U.S. locations voluntarily during the Yellow phase must be fully vaccinated.
Union employees are subject to what is outlined in their applicable collective bargaining agreement. We are currently engaging with the unions on this issue and have advised each Union that the company expects to apply the policy to the ViacomCBS employees that it represents.
Additionally, our mandatory indoor mask requirement remains in effect of everyone – regardless of vaccination status – at all ViacomCBS locations worldwide.
We also understand that many of you may wonder how the need for a vaccine booster shot will impact this policy and we will be in touch with additional details when public health guidance is released.
We’ve heard consistently from medical and safety experts that putting these protocols in place will best protect our employee community and help us run our business more effectively. We also heard from many of you that these changes would significantly alleviate your concerns about returning to the office. And, while I realize some may have questions about our approach, please know that we will continue to base our decisions on the facts, and with close consideration for local conditions. And, we believe President Biden’s announcement yesterday regarding vaccine mandates for employers reinforces this decision.
As we deal with the ongoing challenges of the pandemic, I want to thank you again for all your efforts to ensure that we continue to do right by our audiences and communities.