The Portland-based financial services company Wex Inc. now requires employees who work in a company office, travel for work or meet with customers or co-workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The company announced the policy Thursday and said it has been in effect since last Friday. Wex is requiring that unvaccinated or not-fully vaccinated employees work remotely, although most of the company’s workers have been working from home for about 18 months.

Wex Inc. headquarters in Portland Press Herald file photo

Wex is Maine’s first major nonmedical employer in the private sector to publicly announce a vaccine mandate.

The company’s decision comes three weeks after the Biden administration said it will issue a rule requiring employees of companies with more than 100 workers to either be vaccinated or take weekly COVID-19 tests in an effort get more people vaccinated and stop the spread of the coronavirus.

That rule has not yet been issued but is expected to be within a few weeks. It will apply to an estimated 170,000 Mainers – about one-third of the state’s workforce. Biden has said all federal workers will have to be vaccinated, as well.

About 60 percent of Americans have received the vaccine, and Mainers have been getting vaccinated at one of the highest rates in the country with 74.5 percent of the state’s eligible population, those 12 and over, having received the final dose.

Wex said its vaccine requirements come as it is maintaining flexibility on a return to the office for its workers, most of whom began working from home when the pandemic spread globally in early 2020. A company official said Wex will allow unvaccinated essential employees to be tested until mid-November, but after that they will need to get vaccinated.

Rob Gould, a company spokesman, said the decision on vaccinations was made to try to balance the threat posed by the spread of COVID-19 variants and employees saying they wanted to be able to meet in person or travel to see customers or visit Wex facilities.

He said the company also encourages employees to wear face coverings in common areas and will monitor the course of the pandemic and make changes to its rules if that’s dictated by scientific data and guidance from health organizations.

Claire Clonan, vice president of global human resources operations for Wex, said many of the company’s employees have been vaccinated. Wex has about 5,400 employees worldwide, with about 1,500 in Maine and “only a handful” of them are required to be in the office.

The preference for work-from-home arrangements among many of its employees led to Wex’s decision in July to scrap plans for a $50 million operations center at The Downs in Scarborough. The company had expected that it would move 1,000 employees to the new building, but it was no longer needed.

Wex also has large office buildings in South Portland and on the waterfront in Portland.

Gould said only a few employees are required to be in one of the office buildings and exceptions are made for workers who want to avoid going into the office while the delta variant is spreading, he said.

Gould said the company now requires most meetings to be run in a way that they are accessible to those not in the building.

“We’re being really mindful of those folks who want to be remote,” Clonan said.

It’s been difficult for Wex and most companies to keep up with shifting requirements from federal and state governments, as well as the company’s own rules, as the pandemic has taken hold over the past 18 months, she said.

“It’s been a moving target,” Clonan said, and Wex has generally opted to follow the strict guidelines so as to not run afoul of any rules.

Wex and its chief executive, Melissa Smith, have been strong proponents of the vaccination effort. In February, when the vaccine first became available, Smith led an effort among company officials in Greater Portland to steer corporate volunteer resources to help run large vaccination sites.

Other major private employers in Maine, including Unum, Idexx Laboratories and L.L. Bean, did not respond to requests Thursday for an update on their vaccination policies.


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