By Alexandra Lapes and Tracey I. Levy
New York State employers may now suspend implementation of their infectious disease prevention plans (otherwise known as HERO Act plains), as the state’s order designating COVID-19 as a highly contagious communicable disease expired on March 17, 2022 and thus far has not been extended. As COVID-related mandates have largely been lifted or expired across the tri-state, employers are once again left in a state of uncertainty – after two years of massive regulations, what is still required and where do employers have discretion to act independently in responding to the pandemic? The short answer is that it varies, and we have endeavored to summarize the current state as of March 2022.
COVID-Related Restrictions and Current Effect
CDC Guidelines Applicable Throughout the County
The CDC continues to require individuals who are two and older to wear a face mask on public transportation and conveyances such as trains and airplane. Outside that context, the CDC maintains its distinction between those who are and those who are not vaccinated, and recommends that unvaccinated people continue to wear a face mask at public events and gatherings around other people.
New York State and New York City
Masks are no longer mandatory in most settings
Effective as of February 10, 2022, Governor Hochul lifted the indoor mask-or-vaccine mandate for all private sector employers in New York State. As a result, most employers now have discretion as to whether and when to require face coverings. However, in addition to the CDC mandate for public transportation, masks are still required for certain high-density and particularly vulnerable settings, including all health care settings regulated by the Department of Health and other related state agencies, nursing homes, adult care facilities, correctional facilities, detention centers, homeless shelters, and domestic violence shelters, public transit and transportation hubs.
NYC customers need no longer prove vaccination status, but proof is still required for employees
New York City suspended the “Key to NYC” mandate as of March 7, 2022, that had required businesses to verify vaccination status as a condition of entry to indoor dining, fitness, and entertainment venues in the city. However, through a new Mayoral Executive Order issued on March 4, 2022 and ongoing requirements by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), all employees who work in-person in New York City – for every type of employer – must provide or have provided proof of vaccination against COVID-19 to their employers. Employers must exclude from the workplace any worker who has not provided such proof, unless an exception due to a religious or medical accommodation applies, or a worker only enters the workplace for a quick and limited purpose.
In addition to the vaccination requirement, New York City employers currently must continue to:
- Post an official DOHMH sign in a conspicuous location at the business; and
- Keep a record of each worker’s proof of vaccination (including ensuring employees get their second dose) and any reasonable accommodations.
Employers who previously posted a notice per the Key to NYC requirements do not need to post the DOHMH attestation sign.
New Jersey and Connecticut – Reprieve from Face Coverings
For New Jersey employers, as of March 7, 2022, the statewide mask mandate has been lifted, as the Governor signed an executive order withdrawing the declaration of COVID-19 as a public health emergency.
For most employers in Connecticut, all business sector rules enacted to prevent the spread of COVID-19 were lifted as of May 19, 2021, with limited exceptions where face coverings were still required. Those exceptions are still in effect in accordance with the latest order issued by the Connecticut Public Health Commissioner effective February 28, 2022, and face masks are therefore still required in schools, healthcare settings, and shelters.
Ongoing COVID Leave Obligations
Employers in New York State, New York City, and New Jersey must be aware of continuing COVID leave obligations, particularly concerning paid sick leaves, that remain in effect. We have broken down the key pieces of COVID-related leave provisions effective in the tri-state area below.
The news is swirling with reports of new COVID-19 variants developing, some of which may trigger future restrictions. Therefore it is prudent for employers to continue to monitor for further updates. We have provided links below for current standards issued at the federal, state and local levels impacting employers in the New York tri-state area.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Coronavirus (COVID-19) Website: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration COVID-19 Website: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/
- New York State Department of Health Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Website: https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/home
- New York City COVID-19 Citywide Information Portal: https://www1.nyc.gov/site/coronavirus/index.page
- Connecticut Sector Rules for Reopen Website: https://portal.ct.gov/coronavirus
- New Jersey COVID-19 Information Hub: https://covid19.nj.gov/