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Activision Blizzard employees walk out over lifting of vaccine mandate

(Washington Post illustration; iStock)
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Activision Blizzard employees staged a virtual walkout Monday in protest of the company’s decision last week to rescind its coronavirus vaccine mandate for workers, according to multiple employees who participated. It is the game publisher’s fourth walkout since July of 2021 as the company continues to grapple publicly with multiple workplace issues.

The walkout was organized in response to a March 31 email to staff from Activision Blizzard executive Brian Bulatao announcing the company would no longer require employees to receive the vaccine before returning to in-person work. On April 1, following pushback from employees led by the ABK Workers Alliance, Bulatao clarified that despite the policy shift, leadership of the company’s different major studios — for example, Activision Publishing, Blizzard and King — would be able to “determine the processes and policies that work best for their employees and locations based on local conditions and risk” despite the companywide policy change. Mike Ybarra, the president of Blizzard Entertainment, said that, for now, the vaccine mandate would remain in place at Blizzard offices, a decision that was echoed by several other ABK offices.

Ahead of Monday’s walkout, the ABK Workers Alliance — which organized the company’s previous walkouts — posted a statement to Twitter calling for the company to “make working from home an equal and equitable option for all employees” and to reinstate the vaccine mandate at Activision Blizzard-owned studios that have not already done so.

Through a spokesman, Activision Blizzard referred to a statement it issued Friday.

“We recognize some employees may be participating in a walkout to express their views,” the statement read. “The company supports our employees’ right to express their opinions in a safe and nonthreatening way, and will not retaliate for any decision to participate in this walkout.”

Approximately 117 workers participated in the walkout, according to a Twitter post from the ABK Workers Alliance.

The majority of Activision Blizzard’s employees are currently allowed back to the office on a voluntary basis, and the company has not set a firm date for a formal return. Bulatao’s initial email on March 31 cited improving conditions and other “businesses and indoor venues across the U.S. [lifting] vaccine requirements, and we feel it is important to align our site protocols with local guidance.” The message went on to remind employee of "the benefits of in-person collaboration.”

Activision Blizzard’s Friday statement elaborated on the return to office process, stating “employees who are not comfortable returning to the office are encouraged to work with their manager and our HR team to explore options for working arrangements that suit their individual situations. We will continue to monitor conditions and make adjustments to the policy as needed.”

The video game industry is back to in-person events, for better or worse

Activision Blizzard has 16 offices based across the United States, with 10 of those based in California. As of April, California requires proof of vaccination only for its health care and direct care (certified nurses or home health aides) workers. There is no requirement for private employers to mandate vaccination from their staffs. A bill introduced in the California state legislature in February proposes to change that, requiring workers to show proof of vaccination by Jan. 1, 2023. That measure would be enforced by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), a state agency that Activision Blizzard is already facing in state court over claims of workplace sexual harassment and discrimination.

The lawsuit from the DFEH prompted the first walkout by Activision Blizzard employees in July, after allegations of widespread harassment against women working throughout the company became public. Another walkout of some 100 employees followed in November after the Wall Street Journal reported CEO Bobby Kotick was aware of sexual misconduct claims at the company but failed to inform its board of directors. In December, approximately 200 workers from across the company walked out in protest of layoffs in the quality assurance department at Activision-owned Raven Software.

The layoffs at Raven have prompted unionization efforts at the company, with several dozen members of Raven’s quality assurance department asking for recognition from the National Labor Relations Board, which is expected to deliver a ruling in the next few months.

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