While the choice formerly was left to private owners, cities and states have begun initiating mandatory COVID-19 vaccination requirements for restaurant workers in the past few months.
On August 25, 2021, Mayor Bill de Blasio established the Key to NYC program, which requires employers to confirm vaccination status upon indoor entry—for both guests and employees. The executive order also permits the employer to terminate any employee failing to receive a vaccination after receiving notice of the requirement. The city began to enforce the vaccination mandate for restaurant workers and guests on September 13.
Large employers across the food and hospitality industry voluntarily require or encourage workers to be vaccinated, citing the need to protect all employees and consumers. For example, Tyson announced that all workers must be vaccinated by November 1, while Walmart is offering a $150 bonus to store and warehouse workers to be vaccinated. Some employees have chosen to quit their jobs and leave the industry over receiving a vaccination, including 20% of the staff at Manhattan burger restaurant Mooyah in Times Square.
While white-collar Americans are largely vaccinated, and employers require vaccinations to assuage their fears of contracting COVID, millions of low-income blue-collar and hourly wage workers remain unvaccinated. And with high turnover and labor shortage issues for the hourly employee market, the vaccination creates another hurdle for business owners—resulting in an unwillingness for corporations to mandate vaccinations.
Outside of cities with mandatory vaccinations, many vaccinated diners are reluctant to dine in establishments where employees may not be masked and/or vaccinated. The San Francisco Bar Owner Alliance, representing 300 bars, reported a universal frustration with vaccine holdouts. Other restaurant owners believe the mandate is a recipe for disaster that will cause more restaurants to go under.
Enforced starting September 13, the mandatory indoor vaccination applies to all workers and guests of NYC gyms, restaurants, and entertainment venues.
As the delta variant spreads across the United States, more states are considering expanding existing indoor vaccine mandates. States to watch include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Washington DC, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Oregon, Washington, and Vermont.