public school teacher

Court Upholds Vaccine Mandate for NYC Public School Employees

By Douglas Lipsky

A federal appeals panel has ruled that New York City’s vaccine mandate for most adults working in its public schools can proceed. The ruling reversed a previous decision by a judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit pausing enforcement of the mandate.

Given the novel legal issues involved in Covid-19 vaccine mandates, it is crucial for employers and employees to understand their rights. By consulting with an experienced employment lawyer, you will be better able to navigate the evolving employment landscape in the new normal. 

Vaccine Mandates for Workers in NYC Public Schools

In short, employees of public schools are required to be vaccinated by October 1st. However, leaders of teachers’ unions have called on Mayor Bill DeBlasio to delay the deadline to give schools more time to prepare for potential staff shortages due to workers who refuse to get vaccinated.

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said in a statement that “the city has a lot of work before it to ensure that enough vaccinated staff will be available by the new deadline.”

According to estimates from the city and unions representing teachers and principals, about 97 percent of principals, 95 percent of teachers, 87 percent of non-teaching school staff had received at least one shot. 

The New York City Department of Education said in a statement that the court’s ruling “is on the right side of the law and will protect our students and staff.” The department’s vaccine mandate is the first for any group of city workers, and it could lead the way to a much broader mandate for all city employees. 

Federal Vaccine Mandate Looms Large

Meanwhile, President Biden has directed the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) to develop a rule requiring employers with more than 100 employees to implement vaccine mandates.  If/when OSHA devises a final rule, such a mandate could impact millions of workers. 

Any vaccine requirement at the federal level would need to carve out exemptions for medical reasons and sincerely held religious beliefs, and litigation regarding the latter is already working its way through the courts involving employers that have already mandated Covid-19 vaccines for their employees. While the outcome of these legal challenges remains to be seen, proving a sincerely held religious belief is a high bar. 

Why This Matters

The Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically impacted workplaces in New York and around the country, forcing businesses and schools to operate remotely. With coronavirus vaccine mandates becoming a reality as employees return to the workplace, disputes are inevitable. Whether your business is considering a vaccine mandate or your employer is requiring you to be vaccinated, it takes an experienced employment law attorney to protect your interests.

About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.