Vaccine Mandate in Effect for NY Health Care Workers

By Douglas Lipsky

New York State’s vaccine mandate for healthcare workers went into effect on Sept.28, requiring them to have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to continue to work. Currently, an estimated 70,000 out of 450,000 health care workers remain unvaccinated, according to data recently released by the state.

In some cases, healthcare workers who choose not to get vaccinated may be placed on unpaid leave and can only return once they’re in compliance.  However, those who refuse the Covid-19 vaccine and are fired for noncompliance with the mandate will not be able to collect unemployment benefits.

At this juncture, state and federal courts have upheld vaccine mandates more broadly, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is crafting a new rule requiring employers with more than 100 employees to require staff members to be vaccinated for Covid-19. 

In any event, legal challenges are inevitable, making it crucial for employers and employees in healthcare and other sectors — education, travel, hospitality — to understand their rights and responsibilities. In the meantime, if you have been fired for refusing a coronavirus vaccination, talk to an employment lawyer

NYS Healthcare Worker Vaccine Mandate

Covered healthcare providers under the new law include:

  • General hospitals and nursing homes
  • Diagnostic and treatment centers, including community health centers, dental clinics, rehabilitation clinics, and other federally qualified health centers
  • Certified home health agencies, long-term home health care programs, acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) home care programs, licensed home care service agencies, and limited licensed home care service agencies
  • Home and in-patient hospices
  • Adult care facilities

All individuals who are employed by or affiliated with a covered entity, regardless of whether they are paid, will be subject to the vaccine mandate, including medical and nursing staff, contract staff, students, and volunteers.

Can I collect unemployment benefits if I am fired for refusing a Covid-19 vaccine?

According to the New York Department of Labor, healthcare workers who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine and are fired for failing to comply with the mandate will not be able to collect unemployment benefits unless they present a doctor-approved request for medical accommodation.

The DOL’s website states that “workers in a healthcare facility, nursing home, or school who voluntarily quit or are terminated for refusing an employer-mandated vaccination” are not eligible for unemployment insurance because employers have “compelling interest” for their employees to be vaccinated.

Healthcare Worker Shortages Due to the Vaccine Mandate

The mandate has created staff shortages, prompting Gov, Kathy Hochul to sign an executive order declaring a statewide emergency which allows health care workers from other parts of the country to fill empty positions temporarily and authorizes the state to deploy the National Guard if necessary.

Know Your Rights About Vaccine Mandates

Vaccine mandates are not only in place for healthcare workers, but employees of NYC public schools and other public and private entities. Whether your employer is requiring you to be vaccinated for Covid-19 or you have been fired for refusing a vaccine and denied unemployment benefits, it takes an experienced employment lawyer to protect your rights. 

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.