The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Bloomberg industry journalists concerned about requirement to work in D.C.-area offices after positive cases

Staffers in the D.C. area are frustrated as the company mandates twice-weekly appearances but does not require coronavirus vaccination

Former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg’s media group has not mandated vaccinations for employees returning to its D.C.-area offices, and continues to move forward with its return-to-office plans. (Eric Risberg/AP)

The great return to the newsroom is on hold for most major media companies.

A sudden spike in coronavirus cases around the country has disrupted the plans of many print, online and television news companies to call their employees back to the office this fall, after a year and a half spent working from home.

Some companies, like The Washington Post, have pushed their mandatory return dates back a month. Others, such as the New York Times, have pushed the date off indefinitely due to the uncertainty of the pandemic’s progress.

The notable exception is Bloomberg Industry Group, which encompasses business news outlets Bloomberg Law, Bloomberg Tax & Accounting and Bloomberg Government and is part of the Mike Bloomberg-founded Bloomberg LP. The media group already called back its employees to offices in Arlington, Va., and Washington, D.C., to the dismay of many who are alarmed that several colleagues have since tested positive for the coronavirus.

Since the mandate to return to the office two or three times per week began on July 26, Bloomberg Industry Group has reported internally that six employees have tested positive for the virus, according to an internal resource viewed by The Post. Three cases were reported on Tuesday alone. Employees who spoke to The Post said they believe that the actual number of positive cases is higher because the company’s count excludes external test results, done outside the company’s process.

Staffers “are very, very concerned about their children, about their family, about the delta variant, all of those things,” said a Bloomberg Industry Group journalist who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to fear of retribution. Some wore black clothing on their first day back in the office as a form of protest.

Particularly concerning to some is the company’s decision not to mandate vaccination for office workers, though a Bloomberg Industry Group spokesperson, David Peikin, said that 95 percent of employees are vaccinated. Employees in D.C. are required to wear masks due to the city’s recently reinstituted mandate, while employees at Bloomberg’s Virginia offices must wear masks when walking around, but not when sitting at their desks.

In addition to seeking to protect themselves and members of their family, employees are worried about a ripple effect. “We’re all concerned about causing further cases in the D.C. area,” the journalist said.

In June, more than 200 Bloomberg Industry Group employees signed a petition sent to management protesting the mandatory office return, both for reasons of safety and productivity.

Those concerns have only increased in recent days. “Bloomberg Industry Group management has ignored the latest science and chooses to put its workers, their families and the greater [Washington-Maryland-Virginia] area at risk by needlessly forcing workers back into the office,” Fatima Hussein, a legal reporter who serves as vice chair for the guild and president of the Washington Baltimore NewsGuild, told The Post. “The combination of unreliable testing, known positive cases throughout an office with no windows and lax mask rules will unfortunately and inevitably harm people who do not deserve to become ill.”

In response to employee concerns, the company spokesperson, Peikin, told The Post: “Our top priority at Bloomberg Industry Group is and always has been the health and safety of our employees. Throughout the pandemic, our decision-making has been deliberate and rooted in science and public health, taking into account recommendations from federal, state, and local public health officials. We have and will continue to make changes to our in-office practices based on scientific and governmental guidance.”

Mike Bloomberg, a former New York mayor and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, has been a vocal proponent of in-person office work — though the company’s New York City-headquartered Bloomberg News organization is not mandating a return to office until early September, according to a guidance late last month.

An internal document meant to justify the return-to-office logic to Bloomberg Industry Group employees gave a hypothetical example of a reporter who “overhears a good interview by a colleague and learns to employ those same techniques,” among other potential benefits of office culture.

Workers around the country have been caught in a web of confusing and constantly changing rules and regulations — instituted not only by corporations but also local and state governments.

CNN requires vaccinations for employees who voluntarily choose to work in the network’s offices, but the policy initially operated on the honor system, with employees not required to show proof they got the shot.

That seemed to change on Thursday, when CNN fired three employees who were found to be unvaccinated, and network president Jeff Zucker announced that proof would likely be required going forward. “Let me be clear — we have a zero-tolerance policy on this,” Zucker said in a memo obtained by The Post.

Ahead of The Post’s planned Sept. 13 office return, the company announced that employees must be vaccinated. But, on Tuesday, the company postponed the return until Oct. 18 due to “the delta variant’s rapid spread.”