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Cornell University, CNY’s largest employer, requires full vaccination for employees

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SYRACUSE N.Y. — Cornell University is requiring all of its employees to be fully vaccinated by December 8 or be removed from the company’s payroll, according to a letter sent to faculty and staff on Wednesday.

The letter, from President Martha Pollock, Provost Michael Kotlikoff, and Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Mary Opperman informed staff that they will need to be fully vaccinated or obtain a university-approved medical or religious exemption by the December deadline.

According to data published by CenterState CEO in 2020, Cornell is Central New York’s largest employer with over 8,500 employees – data from Cornell shows this number could be far higher. The university’s COVID-19 dashboard shows 12,702 faculty and staff are already fully vaccinated, part of 96% of the on-campus population that includes students.

The university could not provide how many staff members have yet to show proof of vaccination.

The letter explains that Cornell will be following President Biden’s executive order which requires all employees of certain contractors that do business with the federal government to be vaccinated.

The university says they have numerous federal contracts that are covered by the executive order. Therefore, employees at all campuses including Ithaca, Geneva, New York City, or any location must be fully vaccinated.

Leslie Silva, Silva, a partner at the Tully Rinckey Law Firm, says there is little legal recourse for employees that fail to comply without a valid exemption.

“We’re seeing a lot of major corporations out there enacting vaccine mandates whether it’s in New York or across the country, and they are able to do that,” said Silva, “When it comes to the latest announcement I don’t think there’s really any legal challenge. It’s based on if there’s any staff that are federal contractors then they have to follow the federal law to be vaccinated by that deadline. there are some exemptions that can be obtained if you qualify but otherwise you’re looking at termination.”

SUNY colleges already require their students to be vaccinated or be forbidden from campus. Cornell previously confirmed they have been forced to remove unvaccinated students from the institution.

University leaders say employees who have not submitted proof of vaccination will be contacted by Human Resources with information on the exemption process or how to proceed.

The letter urges unvaccinated employees to get the first dose as the full vaccination process can take as long as six weeks.

The university says it is not sufficient to only have the first dose by the December 8 deadline.

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