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  • Grace Brown

Hochul hands out hardship to healthcare employees

Healthcare personnel may very well be out of work in a short time as a result of Gov. Hochul’s vaccine mandate. (Photo via Unsplash)

Governor of New York Kathy Hochul demonstrated a remarkable dedication to the state on Saturday in a declaration to proceed with the COVID-19 contingency plans announced in August by former Governor Andrew Cuomo. By Sept. 27, all healthcare employees in New York State were required to receive at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, or face termination of employment for refusal.

While the persistence of the state’s schedule is commendable, it may be unwise considering the struggle already faced by hospitals to keep pace with the influx of patients as the Delta variant of COVID-19 sweeps through the state.

In response to this criticism, Hochul claims a labor shortage in public health can be mitigated by the involvement of the national guard and employment of healthcare workers from other states or even countries to build a vaccinated workforce.

The looming declaration of a state emergency provides potential for expediting VISA applications of foriegn healthcare professionals in order to allow quicker admission and transition into the American public health field.

Aside from presenting greater opportunity for the cross-contamination of unknown disease variants, this solution promises to revoke the livelihood of current healthcare professionals undeserving of such treatment.

The statewide mandate demonstrates an unprecedented convergence of the professional and personal worlds: never before have employers been so interested in a clean bill of health. The unprecedented demands for complete transparency of one’s health may seem like an infringement upon the privacy afforded to citizens, but it is legally permitted by law.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), employers can prevent laborers from entering the workplace due to a lack of vaccination status, provided their compliance with the reasonable accommodation clauses of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For example, employees may not be inhibited from working due to vulnerability, disability, religious beliefs or practice that may prevent their vaccination against COVID-19.

Employers are strongly encouraged by the EEOC moreover to be cognizant of racial, socio-economic, or demographical barriers that may impede the ability of employees to obtain a vaccine, so as to limit discrimination against minority populations that “may be more likely to be negatively impacted by a vaccination requirement.”

The reasonable accommodation provision helpfully proposes alternatives such as working from home for those unable or unwilling to receive vaccines. Yet remote labor is much less applicable in the case of healthcare providers, whose physical assistance is generally required to fulfill their occupation. A conundrum thus presents itself in the resistance rising vehemently from roughly 15% of the healthcare workforce against the COVID-19 vaccine.

Aside from those physically unable to receive the vaccine, many cite religious or personal philosophy to support their opposition. Those individuals will shortly prove to be disappointed however, as religious justifications have been deemed invalid by Hochul’s recent decision.

The New York State Department of Labor will not recognize religious motivations as a viable excuse to absolve oneself of their vaccine obligation under the newest mandate. Consequently, those without work as a result of the mandate are not permitted to collect unemployment benefits.

Hochul’s description of the issued mandate as an effort to “care for loved ones” is rendered futile if a non-negligible portion of the labor pool is stripped of income, and is unable to receive unemployment benefits. These individuals become unable to provide not only for themselves, but their dependents as well, thereby dispersing the effects across a broader population.

Though the percentage may be far less than a majority, it is important to care for all American citizens, especially during a time of crisis such as the ongoing pandemic. As enumerated in the accommodation clauses of the ADA, employers are responsible to consciously disperse resources and opportunity to all demographics within the workforce.

Despite this effort of federal legislation, the occurrences of Hochul’s vaccine mandate promise to do exactly that; those opposed to vaccinating themselves will be targeted and penalized by a loss of employment. More than contrasting with the desires of the EEOC, the ramifications of Hochul’s vaccine mandate rebuke the values of religious and political diversity intertwined with American sentimentality.

Present public health personnel perform well and knowingly endanger their own lives daily to support the national combat of the COVID-19 pandemic; many have done so since March of 2020, with unwavering loyalty. Deterring their evident willingness to satisfy a vital role in the nation’s continued survival by way of a vaccine mandate many find unreasonable is inconsiderate, and an inversion of the accolades earned by healthcare professionals for their dedication to fighting COVID-19.

When the coronavirus first settled into the daily lives of New Yorkers, like the rest of the world, essential workers were revered as heroes. Given the sustained dire nature of the pandemic, public health employees should retain this glowing admiration and respect, rather than be persecuted by legislation threatening their livelihood.

The true consequences of Hochul’s decisions to carry out Cuomo’s formerly proposed mandate are yet to be fully observed. Though states such as Delaware and North Carolina have begun firing healthcare staff for refusal to comply with new mandates, New York City hospitals did not fire unvaccinated public health officials this most recent Monday.

While those individuals will proceed to survive without pay in the meantime, the degree of stringency with which New York State will enforce the mandate will determine the loss of their employment or not.

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