Is it Legal for New York Employers to Mandate Vaccines?

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You may have heard that the Mayor of NYC is encouraging private employers to require workers to get vaccinated. De Blasio called for “some form of mandate, whatever the maximum you feel you can do.”

Across the country, major employers like Google and Tyson Foods have already taken this leap.

For some employers, this may have caused real concern that this requirement could put them on the wrong end of a lawsuit.

Federal discrimination laws do not prohibit an employer from requiring Covid-19 vaccinations.

Several courts have already upheld the right of the employer to require vaccination. In Texas, a judge ruled that Houston Methodist Hospital could require health care workers to get shots. A federal judge ruled that Indiana University could require that students be vaccinated. 

You do not have to be a health care institution or a university to uphold a vaccine requirement.  

This does not mean you do not need to be careful.

Workers who may not be able to get the vaccine for health reasons should be offered alternative working arrangements under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Those citing religious grounds under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 should also be offered alternative working arrangements.

These should be reasonable accommodations. If you work in a company where contact with employees is unavoidable and remote work is impossible to fulfill the functions of the job, for example, then you don’t have to offer a remote work option, which is no doubt the easiest accommodation to make. 

Not all medical or religious exemptions are valid. Your business attorney can help you determine whether or not proposed accommodations or exemptions should be honored or denied. 

It might be worthwhile for employers to consider providing vaccination support, as many who have not yet been vaccinated have struggled to do so because of access issue. Offering paid time off, reminding employees that Uber and Lyft will provide rides to vaccine sites for free or bringing a mobile vaccine clinic to your workplace can help blunt the sting of requiring vaccinations and eliminate pushback. Many working class people have been unable to get vaccinated simply because they’ve been unsuccessful at getting time off during hours when clinics are open. This is an issue that is directly within an employer’s control. 

Right now in New York City gyms, restaurants, and other businesses can require proof of vaccination from customers, too. In addition, Pfizer and Moderna have just authorized booster shots for individuals with compromised health systems.

Whether we like it or not, the pandemic isn’t over yet, and we’ll all have to continue to grapple with the issues it causes both legally and morally. 

See also:

What to Do If You’re Being Sued for Wrongful Termination 

7 Legal Mistakes New Business Owners Make

What Can Happen if You Misclassify an Employee in New York?


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