Starbucks, Which Employs 228K in U.S., Reverses COVID Vaccine Mandate After SCOTUS Ruling

Starbucks has decided to reverse its COVID-19 vaccine mandate on U.S. workers in response to the Supreme Court's ruling on the Biden administration's mandate.

Starbucks on January 3 announced its mandate, which would have required employees to be vaccinated against the virus by February 9 or to test weekly, the Associated Press reported.

But in a Tuesday memo sent to the coffee chain's 228,000 U.S. employees obtained by AP, Starbucks Chief Operating Officer John Culver said the company would change its policy due to the Supreme Court's decision to strike down President Joe Biden's mandate requiring vaccines or weekly testing for businesses with more than 100 workers.

"We respect the court's ruling and will comply," Culver said.

Culver added in the memo that while Starbucks will no longer mandate the vaccine, it is still strongly encouraged.

In last week's ruling, the Supreme Court voted 6-3 to reject the mandate that would have affected millions of workers. Attorney V. James DeSimone told CNBC that it means "companies have to take it upon themselves to have safe practices in the workplace."

Company decisions on whether to mandate vaccines are further complicated by different state rules. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, vaccine mandates are prohibited in 14 states and more than half the country does not have a statewide mask mandate in place as of January 11.

While DeSimone told CNBC that private employers "have the right to make being vaccinated a condition of employment," he added that few have opted to out of fear of worsening the labor shortage.

Some companies have already experienced backlash over their vaccine mandates. Newsweek previously reported that Carhartt trended on Twitter when the company announced that its vaccine mandate would remain in place despite the Supreme Court decision.

Conservatives called for a boycott of the company, some even calling the mandate "medical abuse" and "tyranny."

According to CNBC, companies like Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase also have their own mandates. Neither company has indicated intentions to remove them like Starbucks did.

Starbucks required employees to reveal their vaccination status on January 10, AP reported. While the company said Wednesday that the "vast majority" of the 90 percent of employees who reported their status had been vaccinated, the company has not specified the exact number.

In addition to the removal of the vaccine mandate, AP said Culver's memo asked Starbucks employees to wear medical-grade surgical masks instead of cloth ones.

Update 01/19/22, 1:30 p.m. ET: This article was updated with additional information.

Starbucks, Chicago
Starbucks announced it would remove its vaccine mandate after the Supreme Court's ruling against the Biden administration's mandate. Above, the Starbucks logo hangs in the window of one of the chain's coffee shops on January 4, 2022, in Chicago. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images