Nike will begin firing unvaccinated employees this weekend, reports The Oregonian. The company, which announce a vaccine mandate last October, stated at that time that employees who had not received their vaccine — and did not show proof of a medical or religious exemption — would be let go on January 15.
The Oregonian published contents of an email that was reportedly sent to Nike employees last week, which reads: “You failed to complete the verification process and our records show that you do not have an approved [exemption]. As a result, you are not in compliance with the Policy and your employment is scheduled to be terminated on Saturday, January 15, 2022.”
Columbia Sportswear, also headquartered in Oregon, will also begin terminating employees who have not met the company’s internal vaccine mandate, The Oregonian writes. The brand’s deadline, however, is said to be February 1.
A new meaning to “Just Do It” — Vaccine mandates throughout the country have been heavily opposed, although Nike and Columbia are both private companies that seemingly hold the ability to implement such mandates more effectively than the government. Still, the brands may face legal resistance, with about 120 Nike employees communicating their objection to the mandates online, according to The Oregonian. It is unclear how many members of that group are actually unvaccinated.
In an earnings call with shareholders last month, Nike CEO John Donahoe said, “As you know, in the United States, we have mandated vaccines and have a very high response rate to that. So we’re ready to come back in a hybrid work environment when that’s safe.” The company had originally planned to have employees return to work on January 10 on a hybrid schedule, but those plans were later dismissed and a new return date has not been announced.
A double-standard? — As unvaccinated employees are laid off, however, Nike has not addressed its relationship with Kyrie Irving, one of the brand’s signature athletes who is also famously unvaccinated. Currently, the Brooklyn Nets player is only participating in away games due to New York City’s vaccine mandate for certain indoor facilities.
With the brand continuing to sponsor Irving — supplying him with $11 million a year for on-court representation and signature sneaker sales — its hard-stance vaccine mandate for employees could potentially be seen as a double-standard. Technically speaking, Irving isn’t a Nike employee, but it’s hard to argue his ties with the brand aren’t profitable to everyone involved. On the other hand, Nike mandating vaccines for its athletes could be seen as a huge overstep, causing both customer and athlete backlash.