New York City's sweeping mandate requiring nearly all private-sector businesses to ban unvaccinated employees from the workplace took effect Monday amid a spike in coronavirus infections.
Workers at roughly 184,000 businesses were required to show proof they have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Monday. Businesses that do not comply could face fines starting at $1,000, but Mayor Bill de Blasio said imposing penalties will be a last resort.
The Democratic mayor said during a news conference Monday that mandates have worked to get people vaccinated.
"We got to double down because one thing we can all agree on ... COVID is bad for humans, it's bad for our health, but it's also bad for business. And if we want to avoid shutdowns, and I believe we must, we need more and more people vaccinated."
Some business owners and workers are planning a legal challenge, said Louis Gelormino, a Staten Island attorney. He said they'll argue the city is violating the constitutional rights of business owners and workers to make a living and that New York City has no authority to impose vaccine mandates on private-sector companies, though such requirements already exist for restaurants, bars, theaters, gyms and other indoor gathering places.
And it's not clear whether Mayor-elect Eric Adams, who takes office Jan. 1, will keep or change the mandate.
Now, many more private employers will have to verify and keep a record of each worker's proof of COVID-19 vaccination. Workers who have only gotten one shot will have to get a second one within 45 days. Companies must display a sign affirming they are complying with the rule "in a conspicuous location," under the city's mandate.
Businesses are not required to discipline or fire non-compliant workers, but they must keep them out of the workplace. Workers seeking an accommodation on religious grounds can come to work while their request is pending.
The new rules cover private places where work is performed in the presence of another worker or a member of the public. That includes not only stores, but shared work spaces and taxis, according to the requirements.
"My hope is that the city goes light on the enforcement of this because it's a new mandate — it certainly is going to require some transition — and employers are dealing with a myriad of other challenges right now," said Randy Peers, the president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.
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Kathryn Wylde, the president of the Partnership for New York City, a business group representing some of the city's larger employers, said city inspectors might be hard pressed to enforce the edict. She said she hopes the Adams administration will show flexibility on enforcement.
"Larger employers I have heard from -- literally dozens and dozens of other major employers – have been concerned about meeting the mandate. The timing was very short," Wylde said.
Vaccinations are already required in the city for hospital and nursing home workers and for city employees, including teachers, police officers and firefighters.
At the same time, the state has trimmed the time health care and other essential workers must stay home after testing positive for COVID-19. Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, announced Friday that such workers can be back on the job in five days, rather than 10, if they are fully vaccinated, if they don't have symptoms or their symptoms are resolving and if they wear masks at work.
State officials said they were trying to avoid staff shortages in critical jobs while also trying to check the virus' exploding spread.
"This is not about sending people back to work who are sick," state Health Commissioner Mary Bassett said at a news briefing Monday. "People who are sick, at all times, should not be at work, and in these times in particular."