July/August 2021 Issue
June 13, 2021

COVID-19 vaccines and the law

Author: By Rachel Paster and Clayton Eichelberger, NYSUT Office of General Counsel
Source: NYSUT United

NYSUT’s Office of General Counsel fields many questions about rules pertaining to the COVID-19 vaccine. The following is general guidance that is subject to change as the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine status continue to develop:

  • Currently, there is no federal or state law that requires COVID-19 vaccination. There is also no COVID-19 vaccination requirement for children in grades pre-K–12.
  • On May 10, Governor Cuomo announced that all in-person students at SUNY and CUNY schools would be required to be vaccinated in the fall. He did note this requirement would be contingent on the vaccines receiving full FDA approval rather than their current Emergency Use Authorization. Some private colleges have also announced vaccination requirements. We note that Pfizer and Moderna have filed for full authorization, which is expected to be granted soon.
  • While a few employers have mandated vaccination for their employees, most employers have not.
  • Mandating the vaccine for employees may be legally permissible, but it is not without controversy especially given the vaccine’s Emergency Use Authorization status.
  • Employers may relax certain COVID-19 policies for vaccinated employees, such as no longer requiring a vaccinated employee who has come in contact with a positive COVID-19 case to self-quarantine.
  • Employees who decline to get vaccinated may be subject to additional protective measures either at their employer’s behest or due to CDC guidelines. For instance, an employer could require unvaccinated employees to take extra protective measures, or work in a different workspace or worksite.
  • It is possible that certain reasonable accommodations previously made under the Americans with Disabilities Act for individuals considered to be at high risk from COVID-19 could no longer be available for employees who decline to be vaccinated.
  • The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has not yet issued updated guidance concerning the availability of vaccines and accommodations for high-risk individuals.
  • In New York state, employees in both the public and private sectors are entitled to four hours of paid COVID-19 vaccination leave per injection.

In sum, while your employer may not require you to be vaccinated, taking the opportunity to do so may afford you certain rights and privileges you might otherwise not be eligible to receive. Remember, both the law and employer guidelines in the COVID-19 arena are ever-changing, so be sure to check for updates on these issues with your local union.

*For general information purposes only. Nothing in this article should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.