August 13, 2022

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How New York City agencies are reacting to the city’s new vaccination mandate

“We are currently evaluating and awaiting more details on the recent New York Vaccination Mandate of private companies,” said a spokeswoman for Omnicom Group. “With that said, it’s worth noting that since last summer Omnicom has mandated all U.S. employees must get vaccinated if they want to work in our offices.”

“Every decision we have been taking, from the number of days in the office to the vaccinations, to masks, to how you use your office,  is decided at the local level because we are 85,000 people in over 100 countries,” Arthur Sadoun, CEO of Publicis Groupe said. “We have to trust our leaders and we know that our leaders will do the best for the wellbeing and the health of our people.”

Boosters and hybrid plans

Some agencies have even started addressing booster shots for their agencies such as MKG, which counts 54 employees among its New York and Los Angeles offices.

“We know everyone has a different level of comfort and risk assessment as we navigate the pandemic, which is why we believe an optional return is the best path forward at the moment,” Christine Capone, president of MKG said. “We’re currently working on evolving our policy with the availability of boosters, and have already highly encouraged our team to start making plans to get boosters, if they have not already.”

Other agencies will continue with hybrid work plans given any “sweeping guidelines,”  said Brandy Flaherty, director, human resources at Wongdoody, which is based on the west coast but has a New York office. The agency is set to move from the current optional office work policy to mandating a hybrid work model on Jan. 18, 2022.

“Before the mandate was put in place by New York, we already had an office mandate in place for employees and only those who submitted proof of vaccination were permitted in the office,” Flaherty said. “As we roll out our return to office policy, we have been met with a number of logistical questions, but everyone seems to be on board with our hybrid plan.  We have updated policies pertaining to COVID safety in the office, hybrid plan structures, and vaccine policies.”

New York City will publish guidelines on Dec. 15 to provide more information on the implementation and enforcement of this new policy, de Blasio said. One point that wasn’t in the mayor’s initial announcement was whether or not office visitors will be required to be vaccinated.

“As we understand the mandate, as explained by Mayor de Blasio, the impact is on employees only,” said Keith Wilkes, a labor and employment partner at the Hall Estill law firm, who began immediately receiving queries from business owners after the mayor’s announcement. “The actual written guidance will be issued next week. If a co-worker from outside New York City visits the New York City office for work purposes, we can expect the New York City mandate to apply. The visiting worker will need to be vaccinated, absent a legal exemption.”

Only time will tell if this mandate will remain, given the fact that de Blasio is set to leave office four days after the new policy will take effect. Shortly after the announcement, Staten Island-based attorney Louis Gelormino, of F&G Legal group, said he will file a class-action lawsuit on behalf of all unvaccinated workers across the city.

Wilkes predicted there would be legal challenges to the new mandate, but succeeding in those challenges is a different story.

“In the federal mandate challenges, state attorneys generals were able to forum shop by filing or joining lawsuits in the more conservative federal jurisdictions in the country,” he said. “As far as the impact of COVID-19, New York City is a war-torn city. It will be difficult for challengers to the private employer mandate to stop the mandate—even temporarily—during the pendency of a legal challenge, or to succeed on appeal in the New York state appellate courts or Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which is the federal appellate court for New York.”  

It is also unclear if Mayor-Elect Eric Adams will endorse the vaccination policy. During his announcement, de Blasio expressed confidence that he and Adams were on the same page. However, the mayor-elect, who is now on vacation in Ghana, intends to “evaluate this mandate and other COVID strategies when he is in office and make determinations based on science, efficacy and the advice of health professionals,” Adams’s spokesman, Evan Thies, told The New York Times.

Other lawyers predict government officials could follow the mayor’s lead moving forward.

“Mayor de Blasio has made a bold move by mandating the sweeping coronavirus vaccine for all private employers in New York City,” Steve Bell, labor and employment partner at Dorsey and White said. “We can expect to see many other mayors and local governmental entities across the country follow his lead. Of course, there will be resistance and no doubt legal objections.  However, the harsh realities of the seemingly more contagious omicron variant create an atmosphere in which aggressive measures may be required to halt the spread of the virus.”

See Ad Age’s 2021 Year in Review here.