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Hundreds of local employers prepare for looming COVID-19 vaccine mandate

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Employers with more than 100 workers will soon have to require them to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or get tested on a weekly basis.

The major announcement came Thursday from President Joe Biden, as part of a six-part plan to get the coronavirus under control. The requirements for employers would be imposed by the Department of Labor and its Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Hundreds of employers in Monroe County could be impacted, like Wegmans, certain tech companies and the City of Rochester. While the goal of the mandates is to stop the spread of the coronavirus, it’s facing some controversy.

“There’s a lot of stress being put on businesses to establish protocols, when in in fact the success of a public health effort is on an individual level,” said Bob Duffy, the CEO of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce.

Duffy said he supports employers making their own safety guidelines for workers, but he thinks the current plan puts too much pressure on businesses.

“I do not support making a blanket, mandatory vaccination rule for everybody,” Duffy said. “It is really individuals’ responsibility to either get vaccinated, or wear a mask and protect yourself and others.”

There is also some concern on whether or not workers would leave if their employer is requiring vaccination or weekly testing.

“If a company has a mandatory vaccination policy in place….and they are telling people if they don’t get vaccinated by a certain date, their job is going to be eliminated, they have to also prepare for getting other people into those positions,” Duffy said.

Under the President’s new mandates, companies could be fined thousands of dollars for not complying. Employees could also face consequences for not following guidelines.

“There’s dozens and dozens of federal regulations that employees have to comply with every day. And if they don’t, then they do risk termination. This will be another one,” said Peter Pullano, Managing Partner of Rochester Office of Tully Rinckey

As the Labor Department works to release guidelines for businesses, Pullano said employers should be preparing and having conversations with workers.

“Employers obviously should be complying with the laws and order from the President of the United States, and employees should be voicing their concerns and their objections early and often if they have them,” Pullano said.

Some of those concerns could be potential vaccine exemptions for religious or health reasons.

“There are people out there who cannot take the vaccine….the vaccine may clash with another medication that they need to take, it may affect another existing condition. Those are legitimate concerns. And employers are going to need to know them immediately,” Pullano said.

In Monroe County, Duffy said many local employers have already implemented safety guidelines.

“Businesses have done a phenomenal job in this region doing this. I am aware of so many, from testing and vaccines and what they have done with employees, they’ve worked with us and our country health departments to get their employees vaccinated,” Duffy said.

Both Pullano and Duffy said with these new mandates, they expect there to be some pushback in court. But, it’s unclear what the outcome would be.

“Really dating back from 1905 on, United States Courts are hesitant to strike down a mandate for a vaccine,” Pullano said. “You never know political climates change, courts change…I think there will be people that challenge it.”

President Biden’s plan also requires federal workers and contractors to get vaccinated within 75 days, with no option to just get tested. Large companies will also have to provide paid-time off for workers to get vaccinated.

You can read more about the plan here.

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