As Silicon Valley and the rest of the nation begin the slow journey back toward a semblance of pre-pandemic life, ever-shifting health and safety protocols in California and beyond have created starkly different rules in offices as employees begin to trickle back. Corporations must strike a balance between lingering COVID-19 concerns with their business plans and their workers’ desire for normalcy.

Many have little wiggle room: Eight San Francisco Bay Area counties on Friday recommended mask wearing indoors regardless of vaccination status as a precautionary measure amid a surge in COVID-19 cases.

The starkest decisions so far have come from the two companies whose employees have been the most vocal about misgivings in returning to their cavernous campuses.

Apple has reportedly decided to push back a return to the office for its workers. Those employees won’t return to the office until at least October, according to a Bloomberg News report citing sources that published Tuesday. The iPhone maker is expected to give a month’s notice before telling its workers when they need to return, the sources said.

Apple did not respond to email seeking comment.

Meanwhile, Google parent Alphabet Inc.
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is “strongly encouraging” all returning employees to “wear a mask inside Google property at all times, regardless of vaccination status, until further notice.”

The email message late Sunday obtained by MarketWatch comes a week after the company welcomed back employees on a voluntary basis to its California offices, including its Mountain View headquarters. The voluntary return is a test run before a full return in September. Google had no further comment when contacted.

Such are the dilemmas facing companies that must calculate business interests against the well-being of their employees. In the cases of Apple and Google, both have enormous real-estate holdings that have gone largely unused for more than 17 months. Those contacted by MarketWatch said they were complying with Cal-OSHA guidelines, which seemingly change by the week, adding to the anxiety of a bewildered workforce and management.

Indeed, the Santa Clara County Public Health Department deferred our questions to Santa Clara County Public Health, whose public information officer did not respond to email messages.

Against ever-changing rules and the uncertainty of some vaccination reliability amid a surge in COVID-19 cases, tech companies — among the largest employers in the San Francisco Bay Area — are navigating as best they can.

At Facebook Inc.
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only employees who choose to provide proof that they are fully vaccinated will be eligible to opt-out of mask wearing in offices. However, all employees have the option to continue wearing masks regardless of vaccination status. 

Twitter Inc.
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is not changing its mask policy in San Francisco for now. The company is requiring proof of vaccination for employees who wish to return to the office. “While masks are not required, Tweeps are more than welcome to continue wearing one in the office,” a company spokesman told MarketWatch. 

ServiceNow Inc.
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is following Cal-OSHA guidelines, which require unvaccinated employees to wear masks in the workplace and vaccinated employees to self-attest their vaccination status if they want to forgo wearing masks.

Of course, the easiest solution may be the work-at-home model — something that many startups are embracing.

Coefficient, a Bay Area-based software-as-a-service company that connects spreadsheets to corporate systems internally at Uber Technologies Inc. UBER, Workday Inc. WDAY, and Spotify Technology SPOT has taken the path of least resistance: All of its dozen employees work remotely. It has no office.

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