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New York Vaccine Mandate for Healthcare Workers is Invalidated

On January 13, 2023, Onondaga County Supreme Court Justice, Gerard J. Neri struck down the state’s regulation which was implemented in August of 2021, requiring covered healthcare entities to ensure that their “personnel” are “fully vaccinated” against COVID-19, rendering the law invalidated.

The regulation was struck down on the basis that the NY Commissioner of Health, Governor Hochul and the NY Department of Health (DOH) had acted beyond the scope of their authority in enacting the regulation. Absent express legislative authority, the Commissioner of Health is prohibited from mandating vaccinations, such as the COVID-19 vaccine. Although the Legislature has authorized certain immunization programs, such as for measles, mumps and rubella for children, the public health law is silent on immunizations for COVID-19 or other types of coronaviruses. Because mandatory immunization programs may only be implemented pursuant to specific provisions of the public health law, and because the public health law does not speak to COVID-19 vaccination, the judge held that the mandatory vaccination requirements created by the regulation were determined to be “beyond the scope of the NY Commissioner of Health’s, Governor Hochul’s and the DOH’s “authority.”

Next Steps for Employers

Because the regulation is now invalidated, the NY Commissioner of Health and DOH are “prohibited from implementing or enforcing” the requirement. This means that healthcare workers are not required by state law to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and any such requirements would become a matter of an employer’s internal policy. Employers who decide as a matter of practice to mandate COVID-19 vaccination should keep in mind that any such requirement should be job-related and consistent with business necessity, further, acknowledgment of disability-related exemptions that may be applicable based on federal (i.e., the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)), state and local laws may be required.

It is still unclear what legal challenge, if any, the DOH intends to bring in response to this ruling, but the DOH may decide to appeal the decision. As a result, healthcare employers should continue to monitor this topic for any updates.

HR Works will also continue to monitor this topic and provide updated information as it becomes available.

HR Works, headquartered in Upstate New York, is a human resource management outsourcing and consulting firm serving clients throughout the United States for over thirty years. HR Works provides scalable strategic human resource management and consulting services, including: affirmative action programs; benefits administration outsourcing; HRIS self-service technology; full-time, part-time and interim on-site HR managers; HR audits; legally reviewed employee handbooks and supervisor manuals; talent management and recruiting services; and training of managers and HR professionals.