As NYC restaurant workers become eligible for the COVID vaccine, the city’s restaurants are starting to consider whether mandatory vaccination requirements for their employees need to be implemented. Such a measure is currently legal according to For the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, however, it opens up a minefield of potential ethical and personal problems in practice, as demonstrated by the recent debacle at the Red Hook Tavern in Brooklyn. Still, at some point it could become a tool restaurants can use to protect their employees and convince customers that the food in their facilities is safe.

The prospect of needing a COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of employment was first publicly considered in New York when former Red Hook Tavern server Bonnie Jacobson said in mid-February that she had been fired after refusing to take the vaccine immediately to obtain. The restaurant has since issued an official mandatory vaccination policy that states that all employees must be fully vaccinated within 60 days of their approval, except in the event of illness or a sincere religious belief under current federal EEOC regulations.

Red Hook Tavern’s drive to introduce a mandatory vaccination policy a few weeks after vaccinating restaurant workers in town is an outlier among its peers, according to several labor lawyers currently discussing such guidelines with restaurant customers across town. Vaccine spikes are still hard to secure in the city, which could make an early request look particularly ham-handed, it said. Additionally, city or state lawmakers could still have separate regulations on vaccination requirements in the workplace, potentially superseding the federal EEOC decision. The biggest challenge, however, is how restaurants can respectfully enforce a policy that makes employees feel like they have no choice on an issue that many consider deeply personal.

The exterior of the Red Hook Tavern

The Red Hook Tavern introduced a mandatory vaccine requirement for its employees in FebruaryJean Schwarzwalder/Eater

“I think people are smart enough to at least realize that [they] shouldn’t have a knee jerk reaction and do something so drastic without talking to him [counsel]Says attorney Brian Klein of NYC-based law firm Weinstein + Klein. „But there’s definitely a lot of curiosity,” he says when it comes to investigating the subject.

Roslyn Stone, CEO and epidemiologist of Zero Hour Health and Zedic, does not currently recommend that her customers implement mandatory vaccination guidelines. The company, which provides clinical advice and support on a variety of health issues to the restaurant and hospitality industry, works with nearly 500 restaurants in NYC and collects self-reported health data for more than 10,000 employees in those locations. It was generally found that around 50 percent of workers now want to be vaccinated. 30 percent are waiting or undecided; 10 percent don’t want this vaccine; and 10 percent don’t want a vaccine.

„I know I’m preaching to the choir when I tell you this is an industry that is financially under heavy financial strain this year,” says Stone. “We never want one of our customers to have a test case. You have to do the right thing, and there are ways to do the right thing without the vaccine being mandatory. “According to Stone, one of the biggest hurdles to getting more vaccinations for staff is the supply.

Jacob Bernard, a bartender at King Tai in Crown Heights, believes it is „only shameful” to refuse to vaccinate a flammable crime. Bernard, who recovered from COVID-19 last year and has since received an initial dose of the vaccine, says that while people should get the vaccine and „almost everyone” at King Tai’s job is to help the staff Forcing them to look for spots and the people who already distrust the vaccine will continue to be pushed aside. „As long as supply and trust do not catch up and we make more people immune, we cannot make the life and work of the most important employees even more difficult than before,” says Bernard.

At the moment there are a lot of restaurants eager in the hope that many employees will volunteer to receive the vaccine to help employees earn points and otherwise provide sound support in the vaccination process.

The Union Square Hospitality Group assists employees in scheduling appointments and offers assistance in both English and Spanish. It provides paid time off for employees to get vaccinated, according to a USHG spokesperson, but vaccinations are not mandatory. At the Korean seafood restaurant Haenyeo in Park Slope, 30 to 40 percent of the restaurant’s 25 employees, with the support of the restaurant, voluntarily received a vaccination in the first round, which, according to General Manager Chieun Ko-Bistrong, is not required. Dear mom, in a café with two locations in Harlem, 15 to 20 percent of the 25 or so employees have been vaccinated voluntarily, says founder and CEO Zachary Sharaga.

According to CEO Jason Wang, the fast-casual chain Xi’an Famous Foods helps employees plan appointments and does not require vaccinations.

„Right now, given the limited vaccination points available, it’s just not practical for employers to mandate vaccines with deadlines for getting them,” says Wang. However, this does not mean that the company will not reconsider a mandatory vaccination policy at a later date. „I think once we have enough points and enough cans in town it seems like a wise policy for us to think about it,” he says.

Attorney Klein says he has mainly responded to queries from restaurant owners about whether to make a mandatory vaccine requirement, rather than from owners who have already made up their minds and need help drafting a policy. As of the end of February, Klein had not yet established mandatory vaccination guidelines for the company’s 50 or so restaurant customers, but „there are currently several that are essentially being updated” pending some additional information and final customer signature. off.

Similarly, labor attorney Carolyn Richmond and her team at Fox Rothschild have not yet drawn up more than two mandatory guidelines for city restaurants at this point, she says. More often, they have been asked to write letters to staff who strongly encourage vaccination. Richmond, who also advises the NYC Hospitality Alliance member restaurants, estimates the company has so far compiled letters to vaccinate 20-25 restaurant groups in NYC. Richmond works with approximately 1,000 restaurants in NYC.

In general, this practice isn’t yet a top priority for restaurants, Richmond says. Owners are more interested in preparing for the next round of paycheck protection program loans and seeking help implementing quarantine policies if an employee tests positive for COVID-19. Also, „very few restaurants are really open right now,” says Richmond. “Even with meals outside or with a capacity of 25 percent indoors, the number of employees is unmatched. By the time we see 50 percent or more of the employees hired and brought back, many of these questions get to the point. ”

However, it becomes a more serious question as the operating restrictions are lifted and restaurants can more clearly assess the potential benefits of such an action. Klein says that among the company’s restaurant customers discussing mandatory vaccine requirements, they’re primarily interested in considering the option on behalf of staff and workplace safety – but they’re also seen as a potential marketing boon. In the future, it could be normal for restaurants to publicly advertise that their employees are mostly or fully vaccinated against COVID-19, as the Ministry of Health’s letter notes are currently displayed in the front windows, says Klein.

Fox Rothschild’s Richmond has seen similar interest among its customers. „People don’t like coming back,” says Richmond. „And restaurateurs want to be able to have it all in their arsenal to say we are doing everything we can to make sure you can come back and enjoy your time here.”

Haenyeos Ko-Bistrong warns that the process of getting a vaccine in the city needs to get a lot easier and more obviously free, especially for those without health insurance, before the restaurant would consider vaccinating. She also says that she can „absolutely” see that vaccination will become part of the interview process in the future. If someone does not get vaccinated, it must be clear that they are taking other COVID-19 safety precautions seriously, including wearing masks and gloves at all times.

„Safety is really the most important thing,” says Ko-Bistrong. „We’re in the service industry and want to make sure our guests are just as safe as we are.”

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