Governor recommends other branches of government and private employers to follow these recommendations.
(July 29, 2021 – Washington, DC) – As a result of the increase in COVID-19 cases, to guarantee continuity of government services, and to safeguard the health of the entire population, the Governor of Puerto Rico Pedro R. Pierluisi, announced the enactment of Executive Order 2021-058. It states that, beginning on August 16, 2021, government agencies must require all employees who work in person to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Furthermore, the Executive Order makes recommendations to Municipalities, the Judicial and Legislative Branches, as well as private and commercial employers to follow the government’s lead in requiring vaccination for in person workers.
Employees whose immune system is compromised, are allergic to vaccines, or have any other medical condition that prevents them from being vaccinated will be exempt from this Executive Order. This exception must be certified by a licensed physician in Puerto Rico. The physician must also certify the length of the contraindication. Once the contraindication ceases, the person must comply with the vaccination requirement.
Alternatively, it is allowed, as an exception, not to be vaccinated for religious reasons, as long as the vaccine goes against the dogmas of the employee’s religion. To comply with this exception, the employee must submit an affidavit signed by the minister of the religion or sect certifying under oath (and subject to perjury) that because of religious beliefs an individual cannot be vaccinated against COVID-19.
“We have been immersed in this pandemic for a year and a half, which has affected us all. Puerto Rico began with a promising pattern of vaccinations, yet it is very unfortunate that there is a sector of the population that, despite having the resources available, has not been vaccinated (except for those who are prevented from doing so due medical or religious reasons). Considering this situation and having the health of all Puerto Ricans who work in government agencies and those who go to perform daily procedures as a priority, I signed this Executive Order because the vaccine is the solution,” Governor Pierluisi said after establishing there are precedents and legal grounds to require vaccination, which are also supported by a memo from the federal Department of Justice.
The Secretary of the Puerto Rico Department of Health, Dr. Carlos Mellado, said that “with the latest variants, Delta in particular, vaccination is vital to keep the COVID-19 virus under control. We have been emphatic in carrying a message of prevention. And we continue to map out strategies that will allow us to move forward in the vaccination process to prevent serious illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths, even if infected with the virus. We must build on the progress that we have made as a population to achieve herd immunity.”
Regarding the employees who have begun or will begin the vaccination process, the Governor explained that, for purposes of this requirement, it will be sufficient for the employee to demonstrate that by the effective date of the Executive Order, the individual began the vaccination process with the first dose. However, the employee must subsequently complete the vaccination process by September 30th of this year.
It shall be the responsibility of each government authority, or the person delegated by it, to request the certificate of immunization from each employee (i.e., the COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card) or a document showing the employee has initiated or completed the COVID-19 vaccination process. It will be the employee’s responsibility to submit the immunization certificate or document stating the COVID-19 vaccination process was completed in order to be physically present at government facilities.
On the other hand, those who cannot or do not wish to be vaccinated for medical, religious or other reasons, may be allowed to work in person using the corresponding security measures. These include the use of masks, social distancing, and any other measures the Puerto Rico Health Department may require. Also, each week, all unvaccinated employees must submit a negative COVID-19 test result administered no more than 72 hours prior or a positive COVID-19 result from the past three months, along with documentation of recovery.
Employees who do not comply with these requirements will not be allowed to work in person. Therefore, employees will have the option of using the applicable compensatory time or regular leave. If employees have no accumulated balance, they must take an unpaid leave of absence until the emergency is over.
Recommendations to private employers, municipalities, and other branches of government:
Governor Pierluisi also recommended to public corporations, municipalities, private and commercial employers, the Legislative Assembly, and the Judicial Branch to take similar measures to guarantee the health and safety of all their employees and the public that visits their institutions. In the case of shopping centers and private entities that serve the public, they could require those who wish to enter their facilities a vaccination, a negative COVID-19 test result, or a positive COVID-19 result from the past three months with proof of recovery.
As recently as this past Monday, July 26, 2021, several cities and agencies announced they will require vaccination for their employees. New York City was one of the first to announce it. Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered that, as of September 13, 2021, all city employees must be vaccinated or, in the alternative, must be tested for COVID-19 on a weekly basis. For its part, the state of California was the first state to mandate a similar measure. Beginning in August, the state requires vaccination of all employees or, in the alternative, a negative COVID-19 test. Finally, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs was the first federal agency to implement a requirement that all health care workers must be vaccinated.