Much to the chagrin of Brooklyn Nets fans, Kyrie Irving’s special skills on the basketball court do not make him entitled to special treatment in connection with New York City’s vaccination requirements.
On Monday, March 7, 2022, Mayor Eric Adams announced that New York City’s indoor vaccination mandate was lifted. However, all other vaccine mandates in New York City remain in effect.
Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving’s refusal to be vaccinated against Covid-19 has been a major storyline this NBA season. As things stand, New York City’s indoor vaccine mandates have precluded Irving from playing in any games at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Many believed that Adams' recent announcement lifting the indoor vaccine mandate would allow Irving to play in home games.
However, although March 7 brought an end to New York City's indoor vaccine mandate, Mayor Adams announced that other vaccine mandates remain in effect. Included in the list of continuing mandates is the order requiring vaccinations for employees of New York-based in-person businesses. As a Brooklyn Nets employee, Irving is thus mandated to be vaccinated. Consequently, he is still not allowed to play at home.
Here lies the dilemma. Unvaccinated persons may partake in, amongst other things, indoor entertainment events (e.g., attending a basketball game). However, employees of New York-based in-person businesses must be vaccinated. As pertaining to Irving, Mayor Adams admits that the current mandate's effect in keeping Irving from playing home games “makes no sense.”
However, Mayor Adams has made it clear that he will not make an exception for Irving. He stated, "[i]t would send the wrong message just to have an exception for one player when we’re telling countless number of New York City employees, ‘If you don’t follow the rules, you won’t be able to be employed.’”
Tips for Employers. Many employers have implemented vaccination requirements for their employees. Employers should follow Mayor Adams’ lead—there should be no special treatment for individual employees for company vaccination requirements. Employees should avoid vaccination-related practices and policies that treat employees differently based on race, national origin, disability, gender, religion, age, or any other protected classification. Additionally, as the Adams and Irving situation highlights, employers should not make special accommodations for their "star" employees. Doing so risks a decline in workplace culture and makes employers vulnerable to discrimination claims.
Important Note. Although employers should refrain from providing special vaccine-related treatment, they must provide employees with reasonable vaccine-related accommodations. Reasonable accommodations include, but are not limited to, accommodations based on disability, pregnancy, and religion.