Labor Commissioner Finds That Teacher’s Assistant Not Given Adequate Time To Receive COVID Vaccine

CATEGORY: Private Education Matters
CLIENT TYPE: Private Education
DATE: Feb 28, 2024

Diana Antonaros, a full-time teacher’s assistant at a private Catholic school in New York City was required under the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by September 27, 2021 in order to maintain employment.  Antonaros failed to provide proof of vaccination by the deadline and was deemed unable to meet an essential function of her job.  The Department of Labor issued an initial determination that due to Antonaros’ failure to receive the vaccine, she was considered to have “quit without good cause.”  Therefore, she was disqualified from receiving unemployment insurance benefits because she had voluntarily separated from her employment without good cause.

An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) upheld the denial of benefits, finding that Antonaros had voluntarily left her employment without good cause, and the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board affirmed the ALJS’s determination.

On appeal, Antonaros argued that she was not given enough time to comply with the vaccine mandate.  The assistant principal notified Antonaros on Thursday, September 23, 2021 that NYCDOE teachers and staff needed to receive at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by Monday (September 27, 2021).  The assistant principal stated that NYCDOE mandate would include programs outside of public schools, but that, at the time of the email, she did not have guidance on what this mandate would mean for their school.  The following day, Friday, September 24, 2021, the Archdiocese sent a letter advising individuals working in the Universal Pre-K Program, including Antonaros, that the Archdiocese of New York had just been notified that the mandate applied to them, and they were required to get the vaccine by the end of business on Monday.

Ms. Antonaros was unsure about the safety of the vaccine and wanted to speak with her doctor first, especially since she had already contracted COVID-19 and believed she may have built up an immunity.  She was unable to reach her doctor because it was the weekend.  On Monday, Antonaros and four other Universal Pre-K Program workers met with the School principal and told him they had not been provided enough time to comply with the mandate and asked for an extension.  The principal refused.

The Labor Commissioner concluded that only providing four days, two of which were weekend days, to comply with the mandate was unreasonable.  The Labor Commissioner remitted the matter for the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board’s determination.

Matter of Antonaros (Commissioner of Labor) (App.Div.) 2024 NY Slip Op 00217.

Note: Although this was a straightforward case specific to New York City’s COVID-19 mandate, this case is useful because it shows that the short turnaround time on mandating the vaccine was unreasonable, and therefore the employee may have been entitled to unemployment benefits.

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