Author: Laura Friedel
On December 6, 2021, NYC mayor Bill DeBlasio announced that all private-sector workers in the city will be subject to the vaccine mandate, effective December 27. The following day, however, Judge Frank P. Nervo in the Supreme Court of New York suspended the mandate pending a hearing scheduled for December 14, 2021. If upheld, the mandate requires two vaccine doses, unless a person received Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine, and will impact 184,000 businesses.
Mayor DeBlasio’s action closely followed action in Florida where a new standard technically permits vaccine mandates, but only if employees are permitted to opt out by submitting an exemption statement on one of five grounds (medical, religious, COVID-19 immunity, compliance with regular testing at the employer’s cost, of agreement to comply with reasonable PPE requirements). The new NYC and Florida requirements are just the latest in a string of state and local regulations around vaccine mandates (some requiring, some prohibiting, and some finding a place in the middle).
Earlier this year, an OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) was issued. The ETS would require vaccination or weekly testing for employees of employers with 100 or more employees, but this requirement is in flux while courts hash out arguments regarding its enforceability. On November 12, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit granted a motion to stay the ETS, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit now has jurisdiction over the ETS legal challenges. The Department of Labor has filed a motion to lift the stay entered by the Fifth Circuit, but in the meantime, OSHA has suspended implementation and enforcement of the ETS.
With the ETS in limbo and local jurisdictions implementing their own vaccine mandate requirements, businesses around the country are wondering what this means for them. The following are three recommendations to keep in mind:
- Consider local rules and regulations regarding vaccine mandates. In large part, your obligations will depend on where your employees are located and whether you are a government contractor or in the health care industry. If the ETS becomes effective, it will preempt state and local requirements that don’t go as far to require vaccines (such as in Florida), but until then, state and local requirements limiting employers’ right to require vaccines will prevail.
- Make a decision internally as to whether, if the ETS becomes effective, you will offer testing as an option for all or only for those who can’t get vaccinated for medical, religious, or similar reasons. Also, think about how you plan to conduct testing (such as requiring employees to get tested on own and turn in proof or testing employees on-site).
- Remind employees that management is following the situation and urge employees to get vaccinated now. Businesses can send a letter to their employees letting them know that the company is monitoring the new rules, including state and local requirements and the OSHA ETS, and that you will be following any rules that are enacted in your jurisdiction. As such, employees are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated now so that they are in compliance if/when it becomes effective. Additionally, if testing only will be offered to those employees with a bona fide need for an exception, you should let them know that they need to request an accommodation by a specific date so that the company has enough time to review the requests.
If you have any other questions regarding COVID-related mandates or other COVID-related issues, a member of our Labor & Employment Group would be happy to speak with you.