Ready for the “new normal”? Starting January 15, 2022, Boston’s “B-Together” Vaccine Mandate (“the mandate”) will require certain indoor establishments to require proof of COVID-19 vaccination for entry from employees, contractors, and customers.
- The mandate applies only to indoor portions of certain commercial food services, gym and fitness settings, and entertainment/recreation facilities in Boston
“Indoor food services” means indoor portions of food service establishments offering food and drink including restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. Fully enclosed “outdoor” areas are considered “indoor” under the policy. The mandate does not apply to open-air, outdoor areas, food service establishments offering food and/or drink exclusively for off-premises or outdoor consumption, or to food service establishments providing charitable food services, such as soup kitchens.
“Indoor gyms and fitness settings” include commercial gyms, fitness centers, yoga/pilates/barre/dance studios, boxing/kickboxing gyms, fitness boot camps, indoor pools, and other facilities used for conducting fitness classes. The mandate does not apply to shared personal gyms, such as in a common area of a private residential facility (e.g., condominiums).
“Indoor entertainment” includes recreational and event venues such as movie theaters, performing arts venues, museums and galleries, professional sports arenas or stadiums, bowling alleys, museums, and cultural institutions. The mandate also applies to indoor commercial event and party venues, even if rented for a private event that is closed to the public.
The mandate expressly excludes public and non-public elementary and secondary schools and programs, childcare programs, senior centers, and community centers. It also does not apply to indoor college and university spaces that already require vaccination for all members of the community.
- The mandate will apply on a rolling basis to different categories of people based on age
- Beginning Saturday, January 15, 2022, people ages 12 and older must show proof of at least one dose of vaccine.
- Starting Tuesday, February 15, 2022, people ages 12 and older must show proof of full vaccination (i.e., two doses of a two-dose series or one dose of a single-dose vaccine).
- As of Tuesday, March 1, 2022, children ages 5-11 must show proof of at least one dose of vaccine.
- Sunday, May 1, 2022 is the final deadline by which all people ages 5 and older must show proof of full vaccination.
The mandate does not currently require a booster for an individual to be considered fully vaccinated, but the City may modify this provision in the future.
- Businesses may accept proof of vaccination in a variety of ways
Acceptable forms of proof include a physical copy of a CDC vaccine card, a digital image of a CDC vaccine card, an image of any official immunization record, or a COVID vaccine verification application (“app”), such as a City of Boston app currently in development. The mandate does not require businesses to request photo identification to confirm an individual’s identity.
- Businesses may permit a customer to enter for a quick and limited purpose without showing proof of vaccination
A quick and limited purpose would include ordering or picking up food for takeout, using the restroom, or recharging a cell phone to enable the patron to show a digital image of proof of vaccination. Businesses may also exercise discretion to allow entrance to a vaccinated minor who cannot show proof of vaccination if the minor or an accompanying adult can offer a reasonable explanation.
- Businesses are required to provide reasonable accommodations to individuals who request an exemption because of a medical reason, disability, or other civil-rights related reason
If an individual requests an exemption from the vaccine requirement due to a disability, medical condition, or another civil-rights related reason, businesses should engage in an interactive dialogue to determine whether a reasonable accommodation is possible. Guidance issued by the City provides that if a customer is unable to show proof of vaccination because of one of these reasons, businesses should not ask for documentation to support the customer’s request. Accommodations for unvaccinated customers may include permitting a quick and limited entry to order food for consumption outdoors or off-site, providing virtual exercise classes, or speaking by phone, rather than in person. Businesses may not allow an unvaccinated patron into the interior portion of the premises for anything beyond a quick and limited purpose as an accommodation.
If an employee requests an exemption from the mandate, possible accommodations include permitting the employee to work remotely, having the employee perform duties outdoors or isolated from other employees or customers, or allowing the employee to take a leave of absence. Weekly testing is not an acceptable accommodation under the mandate.
An accommodation is not reasonable if it would cause a direct threat to other customers or to employees including through risk of COVID-19 infection, or would impose an undue hardship on the business. Businesses may not accommodate an individual who requests an accommodation for a reason unrelated to their own disability, medical condition, or other civil-rights related reason.
Additional Guidance for Covered Businesses
The mandate sets a basic minimum standard; however, employers may elect to establish more restrictive policies. Businesses are required to post a notice about the mandate, and must implement it in an equitable manner. Further, the vaccine mandate does not alter the City’s indoor mask mandate, which requires all people over the age of two to wear a mask or face covering whenever they are indoors on the premises of a public business.