Outside of Coca-Cola headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia.
Doug Collier | AFP via Getty Images
As the coronavirus continues its devastation across the U.S., Georgia is reopening parts of its economy on Friday, allowing gyms, hair salons, and tattoo parlors to begin serving customers again. Movie theaters and dine-in restaurants are set to follow on Monday.
But many firms there are in no rush to bring their employees back as the debate over when it is safe to return to work rages across the nation.
While Georgia’s shelter-in-place order doesn’t expire until April 30, the state’s efforts to loosen lockdown policies are relatively aggressive compared with other states’, including others in the southeast.
Governor Brian Kemp’s move to begin to restart Georgia’s economy has drawn the ire of several local mayors.
Even President Donald Trump, who has at times appeared to encourage a quick return to business as usual said Thursday that he did not approve.
“I want the people in Georgia to be safe, and I don’t want this thing to flare up because you’re deciding to do something that’s not in the guidelines,” he said. “I’m not happy about it and I’m not happy about Brian Kemp.”
Permission to reopen doesn’t mean businesses immediately will. Equinox CEO told CNBC Friday that the company isn’t opening its doors on immediately, opting instead for a “wait and see approach.”
Large movie theater chains like AMC and Cinemark likely won’t reopen on Monday, especially with so many film releases postponed.
Food Network star Willie Degel said he’s going to “wait on the sidelines” before reopening his Georgia location and the owner of a metro Atlanta barbershop told CNBC she doesn’t have a date set for reopening her shop.
Georgia Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan said in a CNBC interview on Wednesday, “every industry and every business is going to have a different recovery strategy.”
He reiterated the Kemp administration’s position that these are “incremental, measured steps” towards economic recovery.
Duncan said he has been discussing the plans with CEOs across the state, which is home to 18 Fortune 500 firms. Many of them are in no rush to call their corporate workforces back to the cubicles. Here is where some of those firms stand:
- Home Depot has a team examining when its corporate employees will be able to return to its offices and what that process would look like, though a spokesperson told CNBC, “it’s too early to speculate on specifics.” The home improvement retailer’s stores, considered essential, have remained opened, and the company has implemented safety measures, including social distancing. Home Depot CFO Richard McPhail sits on the economic recovery committee of Gov. Kemp’s Coronavirus Task Force.
- At Coca-Cola, a spokesperson says the majority of office-based employees continue to work remotely. CEO James Quincey said on a media call Tuesday that he does not expect the company’s Atlanta headquarters to open its doors in the initial phases of reopening. “We will, in phase one, see a greater uptick in some of the technical facilities, where being at the location is much more advantageous,” Quincey told reporters, “but we do not see large office complexes as the first thing to reopen… We’re not in a rush.”
- Delta, meanwhile, says staff at its Atlanta headquarters continue to work from home “as the offices remain largely closed to all but critical work functions.” The company says employee health and safety “will be at the forefront” of any decision to return to offices. Separately, Delta reported Wednesday that more than one-third of its workforce globally has elected to take voluntary unpaid leave as the company aims to weather the financial impact of the coronavirus crisis.
- Mercedes-Benz employees at its U.S. headquarters in Atlanta are still working remotely, and the company says it has not asked them to return to the office but will continue to monitor developments and make necessary adjustments. A spokesperson called their telework program “highly effective,” noting that the company was able to expand on a telework program it had in process prior to the pandemic. Mercedes-Benz still has employees at its port location in Brunswick, Georgia to help offload vehicle shipments that were scheduled prior to the shelter-in-place mandates. Shifts for those employees have been “heavily modified” and include adherence to social distancing and sanitization protocols, according to the spokesperson.
- Fellow automaker Porsche has a “small number of essential staff” at its U.S. headquarters in Atlanta, according to a company spokesman. All other employees, including the spokesman, are working remotely. The company has not yet set a schedule for employees to return to their offices. When workers are able to return, the company says it will be a gradual process, “with an incremental gain in numbers over time” to allow for social distancing. At that time, the spokesperson says Porsche will remain “flexible to the individual requirements” of its employees, allowing them to work “where they feel it’s most effective and efficient to do so.”
- Another of Georgia’s massive employers, privately-owned Cox Enterprises, extended its work-from-home guidelines through the end of May for all employees, including those at subsidiaries Cox Media, Autotrader, and Manheim. In a statement, the company says it is actively working on a long-term strategy to bring employees back into its offices “in a phased approach, leveraging data and recommendations” from the CDC. A Cox spokesperson told CNBC Kemp’s announcement had “no impact on the company’s existing plans in Georgia or across the country.” They said a “very small fraction” of the company’s workforce currently reports to physical locations due to the nature of their jobs.
- L3Harris, while not headquartered in Georgia, does have a presence there as part of its large footprint throughout the southeast. Because of its importance as a military contractor, a company spokesperson says L3Harris facilities have remained open throughout the pandemic. To protect employees that continue working at physical locations, stringent hygiene protocols and staggered work shifts have been put in place, the company noted. That said, roughly half of the company’s 50,000-employee workforce is working from home. The company’s emergency management committee, which includes CEO Bill Brown and a medical consultant, is developing an “evolving” plan to bring workers back into the office, according to the spokesperson. Among other options, the company is considering a phased return of its workforce, mandatory masks, temperature checks, and redesigned workspaces.
- UPS tells CNBC that many of its office-based employees have been able to telecommute and the company will continue following local and national directives.
- Thyssenkrupp, which is building a new headquarters for its massive North American elevator segment in Atlanta, says employees working from home will continue doing so for the time being. Like others, the company is exploring a phased approach to bringing employees back into offices nationwide, based on local guidelines and employee safety. Any return to work, the company says, will be made on a facility-by-facility basis.
- Agricultural equipment manufacturer AGCO is still encouraging its office staff to work from home. The company has continued operations at production sites throughout the lockdown, given its essential status in the food supply chain. At those locations, the company says it has followed local and national guidelines to protect worker safety.
— CNBC’s Amelia Lucas contributed to this report.