US banks ask staff to work from home as Omicron flares up

JPMorgan, Citigroup and Bank of America relax workplace policies to deal with an increase in Covid-19 infections in the US

JPMorgan employees are expected to resume in-office schedules by February 1. Reuters
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JPMorgan Chase & Co, one of Wall Street’s staunchest advocates of returning to Manhattan skyscrapers, is offering employees the option of working from home in the opening weeks of 2022, while Citigroup and Bank of America Corporation are encouraging staff to log on remotely, as more financial companies grapple with the latest surge in Covid-19 infections.

“We are not changing our long-term plans of working in the office,” JPMorgan told staff in a memo on Thursday. “However, with the increase in holiday travel and gatherings, we are allowing for more flexibility during the first two weeks of January to work from home (if your role allows) at your manager’s discretion.”

Employees are expected to resume their in-office schedules by February 1, JPMorgan said.

Citigroup was already among other major US banks that had relaxed workplace policies in recent weeks, inviting staff across the New York metropolitan area to work remotely over the holidays.

Now, “we are asking that you work from home for the first few weeks of the New Year if you are able to do so”, the bank said in a memo on Thursday. “We will continue to monitor the data and provide an update in January on when we expect to be back in the office.”

Bank of America is urging employees to work from home for the week starting January 3, according to sources. Earlier this month, the company told New York-based employees scheduled to be in the office that they could work from home over the holiday weeks.

The New York region has been hit hard by this winter’s jump in infections, raising concerns about what will happen at office towers and in schools after families return from gatherings or vacations in coming days. That has forced several banks to revise staffing strategies in recent weeks, with some easing mandates to commute to buildings.

Jefferies Financial Group asked staff last month to work remotely and get a vaccine booster by the end of January. Morgan Stanley told employees who have to be in the office through the first two weeks of January to limit large in-person meetings and to wear face coverings when not at their desks.

This week, Goldman Sachs Group – which, like JPMorgan, had required US employees to return to offices in mid-2021 – told staff that it will mandate booster vaccinations and double testing to twice weekly, even as it stood by its work-from-office plans.

Recent memos from banks urged employees to get their shots. JPMorgan said that it is encouraging boosters – and that it may soon turn up the pressure further.

“To be considered fully vaccinated may soon mean that a booster will also be required to enter our buildings,” the bank said in the memo. Unvaccinated staff, it said, must be tested twice weekly when working in offices.

Bankers in London, meanwhile, are expecting to start the year at home after the UK government recommended a shift to more remote work on December 8, leaving the city quiet even before the Christmas break.

Citibank and JPMorgan staff in the British capital are unaffected by the changes in New York because the banks continue to follow local guidance, representatives for both companies said. Other banks, including NatWest Group, Nomura Holdings and Standard Chartered, have no plans to change their home-working guidance in the UK for now, according to London-based representatives.

Updated: January 01, 2022, 12:29 PM