Q: I heard New York City just announced an employer vaccination mandate. What do I need to know?

A: On December 6, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that effective December 27, all private employers in New York City will be required to implement a vaccine mandate for their employees. Employers will be required to implement a policy under which all employees who work in-person in a workplace with other co-workers are required to have at least one dose by December 27. Although many details have not yet been announced, based on Mayor de Blasio’s comments thus far, no alternate testing option is expected. The mandate is expected to affect approximately 184,000 businesses in New York City.

Mayor de Blasio announced that “other measures,” as well as additional enforcement and reasonable accommodation guidance, will be released on December 15. Many questions remain, including whether the requirement of reasonable accommodation will be for both disability and religious reasons (or only for disability reasons), and potential penalties for employer noncompliance.

In addition to questions about the details of the mandate, another outstanding issue is to what extent (if it all), the incoming administration will support and enforce the mandate.  Mayor de Blasio’s term expires on December 31, just four days after the mandate goes into effect.  Mayor-elect Eric Adams issued a statement that he will evaluate the mandate and other COVID strategies when he takes office.  Given the legal challenges to the federal vaccine mandate for private employers and New York City’s vaccine mandate for health care workers, we expect that Mayor de Blasio’s mandate will face similar legal challenges.

Under current New York law, employers must provide up to four hours of leave for each vaccine dose. Employees may use accrued, unused sick leave under New York City and New York state sick leave laws to recover from side effects of the vaccine.

Given the accelerated timeline, employers should not wait for December 15 to begin preparing for the mandate. Employers should work with counsel to consider how the mandate affects current or planned return-to-work policies and plans, and draft new compliant policies or revise existing policies as needed.