MILWAUKEE — An early Friday morning memo sent out from Northwestern Mutual's Human Resources Department has left employees with two choices: To get vaccinated, or continue working from home.
"It is a pretty significant step. They are the first major employer outside of healthcare in the area who has made this a mandate for their employees to work in the office," said Mark Kass, the Editor-In-Chief at Milwaukee Business Journal.
In the e-mail, the company stated employees need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Aug. 11 in order to work inside NM buildings including those in downtown Milwaukee and Franklin. And if employees aren't vaccinated, they will be required to work from home.
"This is not just for employers, it's contractors. It's others who work for them on contracts and who come into their facilities. It's everybody who's entering their buildings, everybody who's interacting with anybody in their buildings, has to be vaccinated," said Kass.
In a statement regarding the decision, Northwestern Mutual said that the health and well-being of its workforce will "Continue to be our highest priority and we believe that vaccination plays a key role in achieving this goal."
"Yeah, it's a great thing, it keeps us all safe, yup," said one Northwestern Mutual employee, Jane Nichols.
"I think we need to incentivize vaccination however we can. The vaccine is our way out of the pandemic. Anything we can do to get more people vaccinated we need to do," said Milwaukee Health Department commissioner, Kirsten Johnson.
Now that the vaccine mandate has been announced, some say they wouldn't be surprised if surrounding companies follow suit.
"It is a big move, but it's also likely to have a ripple effect on other employers," said Kass.
And as the discussion continues on whether or not companies should mandate the vaccine, local health officials are also weighing in on the debate.
Currently, Northwestern Mutual says they have more than 2,000 employees who are working in-person at their campuses in Milwaukee, Franklin, and New York, and they hope to see that number increase over the next couple of months.
The company said in a statement Friday:
"We take great pride in our dedicated employees who, despite the unprecedented challenges created by the pandemic, have delivered record results for our company and unmatched service for our clients. Currently about 2,200 employees are working from our campuses in Milwaukee, Franklin, and New York – a number we expect to increase over time. Effective immediately and for the foreseeable future, we are requiring employees and contractors who access our campuses to be fully vaccinated and provide proof of full vaccination. We are committed to creating a workplace and employee experience that strengthens our culture and drives the performance of our business. The health and wellbeing of our workforce will continue to be our highest priority and we believe that vaccination plays a key role in achieving this goal."