With two COVID-19 vaccines pending approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), employer-mandated COVID-19 vaccination policies are a hot topic at the employment law water cooler these days.  While there is currently no concrete guidance on this issue at the federal, state, or city level, on December 4, New York State lawmakers introduced a bill that could have a substantial impact on such policies.

Specifically, State Assembly Bill A11179 would mandate the vaccination of all individuals or groups of individuals who, as shown by clinical data, are proven to be safe to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. This mandate would only take effect, however, after a vaccine is approved and its promotion and distributions plans have commenced, and if public health officials determine that residents of the state are not developing sufficient immunity from COVID-19.  Notably, the Bill includes an exception to the vaccination requirement for “[a]ny individual who has received a medical exemption from a licensed medical professional.”

While Bill A11179 is in the early stages of the legislative process, its impact if it is passed, including on workplace relations, cannot be understated.  Should the Bill become law, employers would likely be permitted to implement mandatory vaccination policies — provided that they would likely need to include exceptions for disability-related and religious accommodations.  What remains to be seen if the Bill becomes law, however, is to what degree New York employers could mandate vaccination for employees who are not residents of the state.

We will continue to monitor Bill A11179 and COVID-19 vaccination guidance.  If you have any questions about employer-mandated vaccination programs or how COVID-19 impacts your business operations, Reed Smith’s experienced Labor & Employment attorneys are ready to speak with you.