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Inside in Full: FM Global terminates unvaccinated staff despite postponing return-to-office

FM Global has officially terminated the remaining employees who failed to adhere to the company’s new vaccination requirement policy, this publication has learned...

The news comes after this publication earlier reported that staff began receiving notifications in December outlining procedures for returning company-owned equipment, following a story earlier in the month that revealed FM was imposing a vaccine mandate.

However, just before the Christmas holiday, FM advised employees it was pushing back its “soft” office re-opening until February, leading some of those not in compliance with the new policy to wonder whether the company would postpone its plans to terminate them effective January 4.

However, sources confirmed the insurer went ahead with the dismissals, cutting off those colleagues’ access to the insurer’s internal network on Tuesday evening.

Several sources estimated between 10-15 colleagues within one particular group at the firm were affected by the policy change, and estimated that somewhere in the region of 50 staff across the US had been affected in all. No official figures for the number of terminations are available, and FM declined to comment on the particulars of this article.

A spokesperson for FM reiterated its prior position that the company’s decision had centered on risk mitigation and was based on prioritizing the needs of client-owners and the well-being of staff. (See below for the full statement.)

Staff confusion 

Touching on the decision to stick to the original timeline, one affected employee commented: “I’m sure they [FM] just want this to be behind them.”

Terminated colleagues expressed disappointment at the firm’s decision to proceed with the dismissals, given that the urgency to return to work had been removed.

“Allowing everyone to continue working from home is specifically what we were asking them to do,” said another staffer who was dismissed for remaining unvaccinated. Some affected employees were hoping that continuing to maintain a remote working model would render the need for a vaccine mandate moot.

Ongoing remote work arrangements also added to the confusion of whether the terminations would proceed, staff said. Some of those affected suggested they had received conflicting guidance on when - and whether to - access to internal systems, and when company-owned property should be returned.

“It's incredibly messy,” one source said. “The only useful info I've received was an unprompted phone call on New Year’s Eve when the fleet management company called me to tell me they needed to know when they could come take the vehicle.”

“It just seems odd,” one staffer affected by the policy said during the week between Christmas and the New Year’s holiday. “The company is technically on holiday but all of us getting the boot are online trying to tie up loose ends before our computer access is revoked, and we lose our insurance to drive [company] cars at midnight.”

Accommodations denied 

As this publication previously reported, employees were first asked by the carrier to provide a proof of vaccination status by a November 15 deadline. Later in November the company then said staff had until December 13 to begin a course of vaccination, or face termination effective January 4.

Those who had reasons for wanting to remain unvaccinated were given the opportunity to apply to be exempted from the policy and instead undergo twice-weekly testing.

A number of sources expressed frustration that requests for religious exemptions seemed to have been widely denied.

It is understood that multiple staffers submitted pages of documentation outlining reasons for religious accommodations, including letters with testimony from pastors, but that the referenced requests were denied. The substance of most requests is understood to have been deemed “insufficient” without further elaboration from the company regarding the criteria used to make the evaluation.

Some departing staff were upset with the way the process to assess such exemption requests was handled, with one describing it as “extremely invasive”.

Despite the dismissals, many of those who were unvaccinated at the time the policy was rolled out chose to comply. From mid-November to early December, the number of unvaccinated staffers plummeted from around 600 or about 15% of the firm’s US workforce, to around 60, or just under 2%, as previously reported.

“A lot of people caved,” said one staffer who was dismissed, referring to the number of employees who ultimately chose to comply with the policy rather than face termination.

A number of employees that were let go had made peace with the outcome, with many having already begun lining up alternative employment arrangements ahead of the January 4 deadline.

One employee who had been dismissed but had secured employment called their final day with the carrier “surreal”. Another, commenting on some staff’s attempts to get FM management to reconsider their stance said: “We did just about everything we could do.”

FM ‘ready to turn the page’ 

In a weekly update to staff on Monday (January 3), newly-installed CEO Malcolm Roberts reiterated the company was on track for a February 1 “soft re-opening”, and also told staff: “We’re ready to turn the page on a new year”.

“We’re very much ‘open’ and here to support our clients right out of the gate.”

Roberts also noted that December loss events were a good reminder of the volatility the property underwriting giant faces, but despite cat events hitting the company’s combined ratio “2021 will still be a fabulous year for us”.

“We will still finish the year strong and that doesn’t happen by accident,” he wrote. “All your hard work the last several years has paid off.”

News of the terminations comes as companies across all sectors wrestle with how best to proceed amid the rapidly evolving pandemic, where companies’ views of staff obligations continue to shift.

Other major companies that have fired employees for failing to comply with vaccine mandates include the major healthcare provider Northwell Health, the television network CNN, and United Airlines.

Northwell made headlines in October when it fired 1,400 employees, which amounted to just under 2% of its 76,000 workforce. United Airlines also said that same month it planned to terminate 232 employees who were not vaccinated, down from its earlier, initial estimate of around 600 staff.

Tech giant Google has also implemented a vaccine mandate, telling colleagues anyone not vaccinated by January 18 will be subject to termination.

FM said its position was consistent with its core mission of loss prevention.

“As a company founded in science and research, we firmly believe that the majority of loss is preventable,” FM said in a statement provided to this publication. “And, as a mutual organization, when we make decisions, we put the needs of our client-owners and the well-being of our employees first.

“These decisions, about how we address Covid-19, embrace FM Global’s values and make it possible for us to safely have more in-person interactions with those we work closely with, which is an important part of serving them well.”

Inside P&C provides unparalleled market intelligence on the entire US P&C market – from small commercial and personal lines right through to reinsurance and Bermuda. Redeem your complimentary 14-day trial for more premium content from Inside P&C.

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