For NYC businesses, vaccine mandates put damper on holiday
A surprise year-end decree by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio ordering virtually all businesses in his city to get workers vaccinated has sowed confusion and frustration — and could set off a mad holiday dash to force vaccine holdouts to choose between jabs or jobs.
Tens of thousands of unvaccinated New Yorkers and their employers are now thrust into an unwelcome reckoning over the mandate, set to go into effect two days after Christmas.
Francisco Marte, who employs 16 people at three bodegas across the Bronx, is in a precarious position: Force the shots on his few unvaccinated workers, or fire them.
“It’s going to be hard to force them to do it,” said Marte, who voiced defiance should the city follow through with the edict. “I’m not going to lose a good employee because of de Blasio’s orders.”
Like many business owners, he was taken by surprise by the mayor’s announcement Monday that the city would require an additional 184,000 businesses, from nail salons to big Wall Street firms, to join restaurants, bars, theaters and other public establishments in requiring vaccines for workers as a condition of employment.
With just weeks left in office, de Blasio said the mandate will take effect Dec. 27. In-person workers need to provide proof they have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Workers would not be able to opt out with COVID-19 testing, although waivers would be considered for religious or medical reasons.
The mayor said details about how businesses will report workers’ vaccination status would be forthcoming next Wednesday, leaving companies just a few business days to figure out implementation.
Among other things, companies have to invent a process for asking employees about their vaccination status, documenting proof of vaccination and handling any requests for an exemption. They also have to figure out what to do if employees refuse, and how to protect themselves from potentially costly worker lawsuits.
Marte said the turnaround time is unrealistic, and he wonders how the mandate will be enforced.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, New York City — an early epicenter of the pandemic — has launched some of the most aggressive measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
About 5.9 million adults in New York City have gotten at least a first dose, out of 7 million people age 18 and up. That translates to 84%. About 5.8 million New Yorkers of all ages are fully vaccinated.
De Blasio said his city is now dealing with a “triple threat” — the new omicron variant, the colder winter months and a time when people are gathering for the holidays.
“I believe in individual rights and liberties, I really do. But I think there is a need — a community need — that is so much greater than any one of us at this point. That’s what I’m acting on,” he said during an interview Thursday on radio station Hot 97.
“We’re not going to do business as usual,” the mayor said. “If we do business as usual, we are going to sorely regret it.”
Many companies with more than 100 employees were already preparing for the federal vaccination mandate until courts intervened and temporarily blocked it before a Jan. 4 deadline, but smaller firms were caught off guard by the mayor’s announcement this week.
The federal mandate would have allowed workers to opt out of the vaccination mandate by submitting to weekly testing.
The Dec. 27 deadline doesn’t give companies much time, said Daniel Kadish, an attorney who has been advising businesses about COVID-19 requirements.
“That creates a very short time period, which of course includes multiple holiday periods between the 15th and the 27th,” he said. “And it’s not clear right now exactly what will be required for compliance.”
Danny Kilbert, owner of the Compleat Strategist, a board game and puzzle store in Midtown, said he will comply with the mandate when it’s official, but wonders if it will stick.
“It’s not good for any business in New York anymore. This is the hardest it’s ever been,” he said.
Legal challenges were being readied soon after the mayor announced the new measures.
Louis Gelormino, a Staten Island attorney who is helping hundreds of public school teachers fight a similar mandate on schools, said any private sector worker in the city is a potential plaintiff.
“Certainly, COVID is a problem. Nobody’s denying that,” said Gelormino, who said he’s fully vaccinated. “Most people are not against vaccinations. They’re against mandates. What the mayor is saying right now is if you don’t have a vaccine by December 27th, you can’t work in New York City.”
Eateries with indoor dining, as well as bars, gyms and performance spaces, have had to comply with similar measures that went into effect in September, requiring workers and patrons alike to prove they’ve had at least one shot of a vaccine.
The mayor’s announcement earlier this week also toughened the requirements for patrons by ordering that anyone 12 or older who wants to dine indoors at a restaurant, go to a gym or see a show will have to produce proof of having received two shots of the vaccine. In addition, children 5 to 11 will have to show proof of at least one shot.
Domenico Sacramone, who owns Sac’s Place, said the new rules would add to the burdens of operating his restaurant in Queens.
“We’ll wait and see, but it has already affected my business. I don’t know how necessary it was, considering they already told us we have to lower the curve, and there’s no curve really and hospitalizations are low. Restaurants have constantly been the scapegoat.”
He blamed the ambiguity around the new rules for the cancellation of a party of 100 his restaurant was set to cater off-site.
“They don’t want to bother with it and canceled,” he said.
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