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Firms mandating vaccines are starting to terminate holdouts, lawyer says

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Medical and legal experts discuss the new federal vaccination/testing mandate, whether workers can be dismissed if they don't comply, and more.

Companies don't want to lose workers who won't get vaccinated, but some have been forced to start terminations, a legal expert and business leaders said.

With fierce competition for talent, firms are taking steps to encourage employees to get vaccinated and make accommodations for those with religious beliefs or medical conditions that prevent them from getting immunized, executives said during a Wednesday Newsday Live webinar hosted by Newsday and the Long Island Association, a regional business group.

But companies with more than 100 employees must implement a federal requirement to mandate vaccinations or weekly testing; and smaller companies don't want to lose staff who are uncomfortable working near unvaccinated colleagues, said Domenique Camacho Moran, a partner at the Uniondale-based Farrell Fritz law firm.

"I have a couple of clients who have had the mandate in place for about a month, and starting last week, they started to tell people they're just not going to be able to do this," Moran said of job terminations.

"We have better than 80% of the workforce vaccinated in lots of workplaces. Those people don't want to be close to those who are unvaccinated," Moran added. "So the demand for vaccination is not just from the government, it's not just from the employer who wants there to be a safe workplace, it's also from the employees."

Rather than granting exemptions to employees who are citing a religious belief or medical condition while refusing vaccines, companies will try and find other ways to accommodate them, Moran said. These policies will vary from firm to firm, but generally ensure that all staff can safely do their jobs.

"It might include frequent testing. It might include masking and social distancing everywhere. It might include working remotely," Moran said. "The accommodation really is going to be specific to the employer, the kind of business and the opportunities the employer has to keep employees and workers safe."

Local business leaders say they're focused on working with employees and avoiding terminations. RXR Realty set up immunization kiosks on project sites, and within three weeks, the portion of vaccinated construction workers grew from 35% to 95%, according to president Michael Maturo.

"It's a pretty good indication that if you bring the vaccination to the people or … make it easy for them, I think most people will get vaccinated," Maturo said. "Most employers want to keep their people, without a doubt."

Catholic Health president and CEO Dr. Patrick O'Shaughnessy said "there is no bigger fan of the COVID-19 vaccines than me," but he has concerns about how requiring it may cause staffing challenges in the health care system.

"We will comply with the mandate, of course. We're big proponents of the vaccine, but I am concerned," O'Shaughnessy said. "I have vacancies I can't fill, and I'm concerned about what may happen."

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