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Businesses, workers must deal with COVID-19 vaccine etiquette

What does a vaccine card do for you?

What does a vaccine card do for you? Will businesses ask to see proof upon entry? Can employers ask their workers to produce verification? Business and health experts answer these questions and more. Panelists include Gerald C. Waters, Jr., Partner in Meltzer, Lippe, Goldstein & Breitstone, LLP’s Labor and Employment Practice Group; and Dr. Michele C. Reed, Owner/ Medical Director, MS Family Medicine Health Care, P.C. Sign up for COVID-19 text alerts at newsday.com/text.

Now that more people are getting vaccinated, what does a vaccine card do for you?

That question and more were answered on a Newsday Live webinar Thursday moderated by associate editor Joye Brown and economics writer James T. Madore.

Dr. Michele C. Reed, owner/medical director, MS Family Medicine Health Care P.C., and Gerald C. Waters Jr., partner at Meltzer, Lippe, Goldstein and Breitstone LLP’s labor and employment practice group, answered such queries as: Will businesses ask to see proof of immunization upon entry, can employers ask their workers to produce verification, and should co-workers ask each other their vaccination status.

Several questions centered around the New York State Excelsior Pass, which provides a free way to present digital proof of COVID-19 vaccination or negative test results. One reader was concerned about privacy and others about its usefulness.

"I think the Excelsior Pass is helpful to go to, like, a sporting event," Waters said. "My understanding is that the Excelsior Pass will stand in place of you showing your COVID-19 vaccination card."

Several business owners posed questions regarding the etiquette of asking customers about their vaccination status. Waters advised that asking such questions can go either way: offending some, but also offering a comforting option for those who only want to patronize businesses with vaccination protocols such as a section for people who have been vaccinated.

"The market is going to dictate and money, that’s always a huge part of it," he said.

The flip side comes into play when the same question comes from customers. One reader asked if she should solely patronize restaurants that offer vaccination-only seating.

"That’s an individual decision you have to make," Reed said. "Whatever the business wants to do, that’s what business can do within a certain legal realm."

Waters said businesses, when dealing with staff members, must be careful to operate within the law. He said employers can require employees to be vaccinated.

"But it’s not so simple, in fact it’s a very difficult area of the law to interpret," Waters said. "Employers can’t do, or shouldn’t do, anything without really sitting down and critically thinking about what can I do, what are the risks, and the risks are patently obvious, it’s a discrimination case."

As for whether co-workers can — or should — be asking each other about their vaccination status, Reed said it depends on the relationship.

"Someone who you really don’t interact with, don’t walk up and start saying, ‘Hi, how are you doing, how was your weekend, did you get vaccinated?’ " she advised.

Waters said it’s OK to ask a co-worker if they have been vaccinated, but the exchange should be simple. He said if someone answers that they did not get the vaccine, the questioner's response should be simple.

" ’Oh, OK. What are you having for lunch today?’ and move on," Waters said.

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