In the wake of last week’s updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) easing social distancing and mask requirements for fully vaccinated people, on May 19, 2021, New York State issued its own guidance that, effective immediately, mostly adopts those new recommendations. As of May 19, most New York employers may allow individuals who have been fully vaccinated to stop wearing a mask and social distancing in their workplace.

Importantly, every business also has the discretion to continue requiring consistent rules regarding social distancing and masking, regardless of the employees’ or the patrons’ vaccination status. Alternatively, in most settings, an employer may require unvaccinated individuals to continue wearing a mask and practice socially distancing, but can now permit fully vaccinated individuals to forgo either or both of these protocols. Consistent with CDC recommendations, these new rules do not apply to public transit, pre-K-12 schools, healthcare settings, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, and nursing homes, all of which must continue to follow the State's existing COVID-19 health guidelines “until more New Yorkers are fully vaccinated.”

Employers also have the option to seek proof of vaccination or rely on self-reporting (or, as the guidance calls it, “the honor system”). Employers that wish to seek proof of vaccination can ask for a paper form, rely on the State’s Excelsior Pass, or view a digital application. Requesting proof will not be considered a medical inquiry, but if any copy of vaccination proof is obtained, it should be kept confidential and separate from employees’ personnel files. If an employer does not require proof of vaccination, it should keep in mind that the New York Department of Health “strongly recommends masks and six feet of social distancing in indoor settings where vaccination status of individuals is unknown.”

More detailed rules apply for those businesses that congregate large numbers of patrons, whether indoors or outdoors. While the State has eliminated mandated capacity limits, capacity now is restricted by the space available to maintain any required distance protocols for larger congregate settings. For example, unvaccinated individuals and those whose vaccination status is unknown generally must still maintain social distancing at gatherings that are above the State's social gathering limit of 250 people indoors or 500 outdoors. On the other end of the spectrum, businesses seeking to create fully vaccinated sections of their venue or facility -- thereby eliminating social distancing protocols and increasing capacity -- must require proof of vaccination status and cannot rely upon the honor system.

We anticipate that New York will release additional guidance for businesses on the new rules and we will promptly report on any such developments as they occur.

Back to Workforce Bulletin Blog

Search This Blog

Blog Editors


Related Services



Jump to Page


Sign up to receive an email notification when new Workforce Bulletin posts are published:

Privacy Preference Center

When you visit any website, it may store or retrieve information on your browser, mostly in the form of cookies. This information might be about you, your preferences or your device and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to. The information does not usually directly identify you, but it can give you a more personalized web experience. Because we respect your right to privacy, you can choose not to allow some types of cookies. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings. However, blocking some types of cookies may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer.

Strictly Necessary Cookies

These cookies are necessary for the website to function and cannot be switched off in our systems. They are usually only set in response to actions made by you which amount to a request for services, such as setting your privacy preferences, logging in or filling in forms. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not then work. These cookies do not store any personally identifiable information.

Performance Cookies

These cookies allow us to count visits and traffic sources so we can measure and improve the performance of our site. They help us to know which pages are the most and least popular and see how visitors move around the site. All information these cookies collect is aggregated and therefore anonymous. If you do not allow these cookies we will not know when you have visited our site, and will not be able to monitor its performance.