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COVID-19 vaccine clinics in the workplace?

On Wednesday we found out it's in the works to put COVID vaccine clinics in the workplace.

ERIE COUNTY, N.Y. — It's becoming a challenge and dilemma for local health departments to increase the chances that people will get the COVID vaccine even as the demand for vaccine clinic appointments is starting to level off.

Counties in the Western New York region may now be trying to enlist local employers in the effort as well.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz mentioned it Tuesday during the county's weekly COVID-19 press briefing saying, "We're starting to do some vaccination clinics with employers."

On Wednesday we found out it's in the works to put COVID vaccine clinics in the workplace.

"Within 24 hours we had four major employers lined up saying please put me in line," said Dottie Gallagher, president/CEO of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership. "And a number of other employers through the state have applied to be vaccinators. There's a very stringent requirement - you have to have an occupational health office etcetera."

But Gallagher says so far Albany has not provided vaccines directly to those companies that applied to the state for an in-house clinic and the Buffalo Niagara Partnership is trying to help them get that vaccine supply. So in the meantime now the Buffalo Niagara Partnership is partnering with the county, which says these could be pop-up clinics run by county staffers at interested companies with the size adjusted to the workforce. 

The Buffalo Niagara Partnership will also hold vaccine education webinars for company management on Thursday to encourage them to speak with their workers about getting immunized against COVID.

"Employers have a role in helping people who are hesitant to trust that the vaccines are safe and effective and I think employers are willing to step up and play that role very well," Gallagher said.

And again, while the federal EEOC says companies technically could require vaccinations, the medical condition and religious rights exemptions could make it difficult to do so according to employment law attorney James Grasso of the Phillips Lytle Law Firm. 

"There are very few employers that are mandating the vaccine for a variety of reasons," Grasso said. "One is there's been a pretty good participation rate among employees. And also if you terminate an employee an employer is gonna be stuck with having to replace them and that takes a lot of time, effort, and cost and I think most employers want to avoid that."

Grasso says workers would have to document the medical condition exemption for their employers. And he adds this legal observation on the religious exemption. 

"That's really an area where employers should tread lightly because in most cases it's presumed that an employee's religious beliefs are good faith," Grasso said. "Now whether or not there are a lot popping up is hard to say."

2 On Your Side also asked Grasso about a vaccination policy in a unionized workplace. Grasso responded, "Vaccinations would I think be considered what we call a mandatory subject of bargaining which means that the employer would have to get the union's permission to do it."

"Rank and file employers are not interested in pushing any employees to do something they absolutely don't want to do. But they do want to make sure that they are making it convenient and endorsing the notion of vaccines as being safe and effective," Gallagher said.

To view the signup forms for employers, click here.

For more information about the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, click here.