By Elizabeth Dilts Marshall
NEW YORK (Reuters) – JPMorgan Chase & Co, the largest U.S. lender, said on Tuesday it was working on a plan to bring thousands of employees who have been working from home for more than five weeks back onsite in stages, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters.
JPMorgan is the first big bank to announce steps to return to normal as debate grows over reopening the U.S. economy after the novel coronavirus shuttered businesses across the country and put a record 22 million people out of work.
“Two considerations are paramount as we plan for this across the firm: We want to do it at the right time — which may differ by region, country and state — and in a manner that prioritizes your health and safety,” the bank’s Operating Committee said in the memo.
Around 180,000 of JPMorgan’s more than 200,000 employees have been working from home, with around 25% of its bank branches closed, in an effort to protect employees from the virus, bank executives said last week.
The bank said on Tuesday it does not have a firm timeline for when it will return employees to offices, but that it will follow guidance from government and health authorities and take into consideration concerns over public transportation and school reopenings.
Wall Street banks sent workers home in mid-March to help stem the spread of the virus, but that has proved disruptive for some heavily regulated or technology-intensive functions, such as trading and other compliance roles.
President Donald Trump has pressed states to begin easing restrictions on non-essential businesses amid worries the economic fallout will hurt his re-election chances. Some states, though, are resisting that pressure, with New York City, home to JPMorgan’s headquarters, locked down until May 15.
Health experts have criticized the White House’s push to re-open the economy without widespread virus testing, while the World Health Organization warned on Tuesday that lifting lockdowns must be gradual or populations risk a resurgence in cases.
While JPMorgan’s memo did not specifically address testing, Chief Executive Jamie Dimon said earlier this month that companies could get employees back to work faster if the government provided them with tests, including antibody tests.
Congress agreed to provide $25 billion for more nationwide testing on Tuesday as part of a $500 billion coronavirus relief package. Many state and local politicians have complained they lacked working tests and the supplies needed to perform them.
(Reporting By Elizabeth Dilts Marshall; Editing by Michelle Price, Chizu Nomiyama, Dan Grebler and Jonathan Oatis)