Cummins delays return for office workers

By Andy East | For The Tribune
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Cummins Inc. has pushed back plans to fully reopen offices as COVID-19 cases surge across the country, including in Columbus.

Cummins officials said Tuesday the company has pushed back its return-to-office date until early next year, but will continue with a voluntary pilot program for vaccinated employees at its corporate office in downtown Columbus.

The company employs about 8,000 people in the Columbus area, many of whom have been working from home since spring 2020 as the coronavirus swept across the country.

“We are pushing our timeline to fully open our offices to early 2022,” company spokeswoman Katie Zarich told The Republic in a statement. “While we have been excited about planning for a broad reopening, we are reevaluating our return-to-office plans and moving toward more phased reopening pilots based on local conditions and infection rates. We will also maintain all existing safety precautions, including universal masking, for the foreseeable future. …We continue to acknowledge and appreciate our dedicated employees who have been on-site throughout the pandemic.”

The announcement from the city’s largest employer came as the highly contagious delta variant is upending many companies’ plans to bring office workers back this fall, a drive already complicated by efforts to accommodate widespread employee preference for flexible remote work policies, and debates over how to handle vaccine and masking policies, The Associated Press reported.

Other companies that have postponed reopening plans include Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Twitter and Lyft, according to wire reports.

In June, Cummins launched a voluntary return-to-office pilot program at the company’s headquarters in Columbus. It is unclear how many employees are participating in the program, though 1,500 workers were invited to participate, Cummins officials said previously.

Cummins had expected the pilot program to last around six weeks and, if things went well, potentially “reopen offices in a strategic, phased approach” on a site and regional basis based on a number of factors, including employee safety, spokesman Jon Mills said in a previous interview.

Currently, the delta variant is driving a dramatic spike in local COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, which have reached their highest levels in months, according to the Indiana Department of Health.

On Monday, 44 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 at Columbus Regional Hospital.

–The Associated Press contributed to this report.