New York State Eliminates Mandatory Reopening Guidance for Offices

June 28, 2021

By: Kimberly Klein

On June 23, 2021, New York State archived the most recent guidance issued by NYS Department of Health, dated June 8, 2021 (“June 8 NYS Guidance”), eliminating most requirements for office reopening, including questionnaires, signage and personal protective equipment, as well as social distancing and mask wearing for fully vaccinated employees.  Employers are still advised to follow the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People,” dated May 28, 2021, as updated June 17, 2021 (the “CDC Guidance”), which provides that unvaccinated individuals should continue to wear masks and socially distance outside the home.  In addition, all businesses must have a safety plan. 

Prior to June 23, employers were instructed to use the “NY Forward Reopening Lookup Tool” on the State’s website, which directed employers to the “Guidance Wizard” to determine what reopening guidance applied to their business.  For most commercial settings, including offices, the June 8 NYS Guidance was still in effect, and employers were required to read and affirm that they “understood [their] obligation to operate in accordance with each set of applicable guidance.”   

Beginning June 23, however, the State’s website announced that “[t]he New York Forward Business Guidance Wizard was no longer active.”  The change comes as 70 percent of adults in NYS have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The CDC Guidance provides that unvaccinated individuals must continue to wear masks and socially distance in most settings, but fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to do so unless otherwise required by workplace guidance or other federal, state or local laws.  

The CDC Guidance further provides that fully vaccinated people can:

  • Resume domestic travel and refrain from testing before or after travel or self-quarantine after travel;
  • Refrain from testing before leaving the US for international travel (unless required by the destination) and refrain from self-quarantine after arriving back in the US (you still need to show a negative test result or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 before boarding an international flight to the US);
  • Refrain from testing or quarantining following a known exposure, if asymptomatic; and
  • Refrain from routine screening testing “if feasible.”

Fully vaccinated people, however, should continue to get tested if experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.  Individuals are considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19 two weeks after they receive the last required vaccine dose.  

As a result of these changes, employers reentering the workplace should consider the following:

  • Whether to survey their workforce to determine who is and who is not vaccinated;
  • Whether to mandate that employees get vaccinated, as permitted by law (See our article: Employers Can Require Vaccinations In The Workplace With Certain Exceptions);
  • Whether to require proof of vaccination;
  • When and how to bring remote workers back to the office;
  • How to treat common work areas where vaccinated and unvaccinated employees congregate, such as reception areas, conference rooms, cafes, bathrooms, elevator banks, etc.;
  • How to treat clients, vendors and other third-party visitors in the workplace concerning vaccination status;
  • Reevaluating travel policies;
  • Whether to continue assessments/questionnaires for unvaccinated workers coming into the office;
  • Whether to continue to post signage and comply with other protocols in the June 8 NYS Guidance, such as keeping track of employees and visitors for contact tracing purposes;
  • Whether to require that employees get a COVID-19 test prior to returning to the office in certain circumstances, such as travel or attending events where vaccination status is unknown (i.e., concerts, weddings, sports venues);
  • Creating a safety plan, including steps employers should take if an employee or visitor tests positive for COVID-19 in the workplace;
  • Having a plan in the event there is a resurgence of the virus and/or workers need booster shots in the future;
  • Updating handbook policies; and
  • Reevaluating Work From Home policies that may govern workplaces more long-term.

Employers should keep in mind they will have to comply with the NY HERO Act, which mandates steps employers must take to minimize the spread of airborne infectious diseases in the workplace, once model prevention standards are issued. (See our article: NY Requires Employers to Adopt Safety Standards to Reduce Spread of Diseases.)

Active NYS industry guidance is still in effect for fairs and festivals, large-scale performing arts and entertainment venues, Pre-K to Grade 12 schools, professional sports with fans, and public transportation.

Moses & Singer attorneys can help you determine the best course of action for your business as companies continue to reenter the workplace.  For questions, please contact Kimberly Klein at (212) 554-7853 or kklein@mosessinger.com.