In order to slow the transmission rate of COVID-19 and safeguard the health of people in Puerto Rico, Governor Pedro Pierluisi recently issued a series of executive orders mandating COVID-19 vaccinations in certain instances. The orders are directed to contractors of the executive branch of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and operators and employers in certain sectors of the economy on the island as discussed below.
The mandates currently apply to the following contractors, employees, and patrons:
- All contractors of the executive branch of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico
- Employees of hospitals, laboratories, emergency clinics, health clinics, health centers, physicians’ offices, therapy centers, blood banks, pharmacies, adult healthcare centers, and cannabis dispensaries
- Employees and guests of hotels, inns, and short-term rentals
- Employees, contractors (but not suppliers), and patrons over 12 years of age of restaurants, bars, theaters, cinemas, stadiums, activity centers, gyms, beauty salons, barber shops, spas, child care centers, casinos, grocery stores, and convenience stores
The executive orders require that a covered employee, contractor, or patron provide to covered employers and business operators proof of (i) vaccination, (ii) a negative result of a COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours using an antigen test or a nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT), or (iii) a positive result within the last 3 months along with a doctor’s note and additional documentation showing full recovery in order to be able to access their place of employment or the business establishment.
Employers have an obligation under the executive orders to request that employees get vaccinated. An employee or patron may provide proof of vaccination by showing the employer or operator the COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the Vacu ID, an electronic verification card issued by the government of Puerto Rico.
In order to be compliant, employees may show their employers that they have obtained at least the first dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine by the date that the specific executive order covering them became effective, and then present proof of full vaccination by September 30, 2021, in the case of government contractors and workers in the healthcare and hospitality industries; by October 7, 2021, for employees of restaurants, bars, theaters, cinemas, stadiums, and activity centers; and October 15, 2021, for those employees of gyms, beauty salons, barber shops, spas, child care centers, casinos, grocery stores, and convenience stores.
Exceptions and Employee Refusals
Employees may refuse to get vaccinated for medical or religious reasons. If an employee cannot receive a vaccine for medical reasons, he or she must provide the employer with medical documentation from his or her treating physician regarding the restrictions. An employee objecting for religious reasons must present a sworn statement from his or her religious leader with a declaration as to why the vaccine interferes with the employee’s religious beliefs. An employee who objects to receiving the vaccine for medical or religious reasons must show either a negative test or a positive test with proof of recovery to be able to work in person.
Employees may also refuse to get vaccinated without having medical or religious reasons. These employees must also show either negative test results or positive test results with proof of recovery to be able to work in person. In all instances, employees must provide negative test results to their respective employers at least once per week.
Employees who refuse to get vaccinated must show negative test results once per week or positive test results with proof of recovery. According to the governor’s executive orders, employers may allow employees who choose not to get vaccinated to take any available leave with or without pay.
Failures to Require Patrons to Provide Proof of Vaccination, Negative Test Results, or Positive Test Results With Proof of Recovery
Operators of gyms, beauty salons, barber shops, spas, child care centers, casinos, grocery stores, and convenience stores that fail to require patrons to provide proof of vaccination, negative test results, or positive test results with proof of recovery, shall only be able to operate at 50 percent capacity.
Penalties for Noncompliance
Failure to comply with the executive orders may result in fines of up to $5,000, a penalty of imprisonment not to exceed six months, or both, in the discretion of a court.
Ogletree Deakins will continue to monitor and report on developments with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic and will post updates in the firm’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Center as additional information becomes available. Important information for employers is also available via the firm’s webinar and podcast programs.