NYC Takes Center Stage as the First City to Mandate COVID-19 Vaccination for Private Employers

As federal vaccine mandates are currently stayed pending the outcome of litigation in federal courts, on December 6, 2021 the outgoing New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a first-in-the-nation COVID-19 vaccine mandate for private-sector workplaces. The mandate, which will take effect on December 27, will apply to roughly 184,000 businesses spread over the City’s five boroughs. With the December 27 deadline approaching, here’s what New York City employers need to know to get in compliance quickly.

What Are the General Requirements under the New York City COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate?

On December 13, the New York City health commissioner issued an order to require COVID-19 vaccination in the workplace, which was implemented by Mayor de Blasio’s Emergency Executive Order, and followed by additional guidance on the NYC COVID-19 Vaccine Workplace Requirement, a list of Frequently Asked Questions and a compliance checklist Flyer for Business Owners issued by the New York City Department of Health.

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Courts Suspend Federal Contractor Vaccine Mandate in Three States and Healthcare Worker Vaccine Mandate Nationwide

This week, federal district courts issued multiple preliminary injunctions temporarily halting the enforcement of two federal vaccine mandates: Executive Order 14042 (EO 14042), which requires certain federal contractors to ensure that their employees are vaccinated, and the interim final rule issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which requires staff at health care facilities that participate in Medicare and Medicaid programs to be vaccinated (CMS rule). The current preliminary injunction halting the enforcement of EO 14042 applies only to Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee. The combination of the preliminary injunctions preventing the enforcement of the CMS rule, however, applies nationwide.

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Judge Extends Temporary Restraining Order on New York’s Vaccine Mandate for Health Care Workers Based on Lack of Religious Exemption

On August 26, 2021, the New York State Department of Health’s Public Health and Health Planning Council approved temporary emergency regulations implementing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for personnel in all entities licensed under Article 28 of the Public Health Law (including nursing homes, hospitals, and diagnostic and treatment centers), home care agencies licensed or certified under Article 36, hospice programs licensed under Article 40 and adult care facilities licensed under Article 7 of the Social Services Law. Notably, the final version of the approved emergency regulations removed the religious exemption that was present in the initial proposed version. As a result, health care workers were required to receive their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by September 27 — and personnel at other covered entities to receive their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by October 7 — unless a medical exemption is granted. On September 13, 2021, several doctors and nurses who allege that their sincere religious beliefs compel them to refuse COVID-19 vaccination, filed suit (Dr. A, et al. v. Kathy Hochul, et al.) claiming the New York State Department of Health’s failure to recognize religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate is unconstitutional. Plaintiffs sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction enjoining the Department of Health from enforcing the mandate.

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President Biden’s COVID-19 Action Plan Mandates Vaccines for Many Employees

On September 9, 2021, President Biden announced his six-pronged COVID-19 Action Plan, which will have a significant impact on employers across the country by mandating vaccinations for many employees. Many key details — including what exemptions may apply to mandatory vaccinations — remain unknown until additional federal guidance is provided in the upcoming weeks.”

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COVID-19 Vaccination Planning for Employers: Questions to Consider for Policy and Practice

As COVID-19 vaccines become more widely accessible, and certain localities relax COVID-19 restrictions, employers hoping to ramp up on-site operations or reduce absenteeism face a new challenge: navigating employee vaccination. Employers are evaluating whether to mandate, strongly suggest or simply remain neutral regarding COVID-19 vaccinations and on-site work.

The considerations surrounding workplace vaccination programs are complex. Business justifications and accommodation issues, potential public relations and employee relations pitfalls, the impact of vaccination on workforce safety procedures, litigation risks on multiple fronts — these are just the beginning. To help piece together this business and regulatory puzzle, we have compiled a list of issues organizations should consider as they set policy and communication plans regarding on-site work and COVID-19 vaccines. We have also identified issues to consider with regard to the practical application of any such policy and the development of related communications to employees or others.

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Preview of Things to Come? Lawsuit Challenges Employer COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate

Access to COVID-19 vaccines continues to expand in the United States and employers are navigating many questions surrounding employee vaccination and return to work. Current polling shows a substantial number of American workers are hesitant about or may refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Now, an employee in New Mexico has filed what appears to be one of the first lawsuits opposing an employer’s vaccination mandate.

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