As Americans scramble to find rapid tests, some major U.S. employers give them out as a benefit

The surge in positive coronavirus cases since the emergence of the Omicron variant—coupled with millions of Americans in varying stages of holiday travel—has created perhaps the highest demand for at-home COVID tests since the pandemic began.

As a result, retailers such as Walgreens and CVS have implemented strict limits on how many you can buy at a time, and in places where case numbers are surging, many have raised prices significantly or sold out of tests. 

Meanwhile, as in-office perks like free lunches and wellness rooms have become less relevant in the COVID era, many major employers across the country have been offering a new kind of benefit: supplies of free rapid COVID tests for their teams.

Google, a company long known for showering employees with great benefits and perks, began providing its 90,000 employees with free at-home COVID tests over a year ago—even those who still working from home. 

The company set up an internal website where employees can request a test, which they are guaranteed to receive within three days of their request. The feature was so popular after it was announced last year that the site crashed shortly after going live, according to the Wall Street Journal

Since then, Google has adapted its policy to allow employees to receive a set of up to 20 tests per month, meaning they are free from the stress of having to procure at-home tests that millions of Americans are currently experiencing. 

According to a tweet from Business Insider reporter Tom Dotan on Wednesday, one Google employee reportedly was completely unaware retail stores and pharmacies sell at-home tests, let alone that they cost upwards of $23 per box and that there is currently a shortage of them across the country. 

Google is not alone. Companies in a wide range of industries—from grocery store conglomerates to insurance companies to big banks—offer the free at-home COVID tests to their ranks.

Kroger, the country’s largest supermarket chain by revenue, has offered free rapid COVID tests to employees as far back as July 2020. TIAA, the leading insurance provider for employees in academia, medicine, research, and government, started giving out at-home COVID tests to employees in January 2021. 

Investment bank Goldman Sachs has offered employees free at-home COVID tests since October 2020. Employees at the company’s New York and Chicago offices say they are required to take the self-administered tests at least once a week, although they have access to tests as frequently as they need, and are provided them at home if a coworker tests positive. 

Providing free weekly testing for employees has its obvious advantages, from preventing outbreaks among coworkers to allowing employees to safely return to the office, but the highly coveted office perk comes at a hefty price for companies. Google, for example, reportedly paid roughly $50 for each test back in December 2020, according to the Wall Street Journal.

But it’s hard to put a price on public health and peace of mind.  

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