Puerto Rico remains under a state of public health emergency first announced on March 12, 2020, in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to the sharp increase in COVID-19 cases on the island, on August 5 and August 11, 2021, governor Pedro Pierluisi issued Executive Orders, 2021-062 and 2021-063, which extend previously-announced vaccination requirements for employees in the public sector (Executive Order 2021-058) to government contractors, employees in the healthcare industry, as well as employees in the hospitality and tourism industry (including hotels, inns, and other lodgings. Concessionaries and other businesses operating within the vicinity of or in connection with these industries have been encouraged to adopt this requirement. Furthermore, all persons who wish to stay at any hotel, inn, short-term rental (including those using internet platforms such as Airbnb, VRBO, and others), must present evidence of vaccination against COVID-19 or a negative COVID-19 test. Executive Order 2021-062 goes into effect on August 16, 2021. The employees covered by Executive Order 2021-062 must be fully vaccinated by September 30, 2021.
In addition, Executive Order 2021-063, which goes into effect on August 23, 2021, sets forth that all restaurants, bars, cafeterias, theaters, cinemas, coliseums, event venues, and any other establishment that serves food or beverages must require their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Employees must present evidence that they have received at least one dose of the vaccine on or before August 23, 2021, and the second dose no later than October 7, 2021.
Subsequently, on August 19, 2021, governor Pierluisi issued Executive Order 2021-064, which further extends local vaccine mandates to include employees of gymnasiums, beauty salons, barbershops, spas, childcare centers, casinos, supermarkets, grocery stores (including business authorized under the WIC Program) and gas stations. These employees must show proof of their first dose of the vaccine on or before August 30, 2021, and of their second dose no later than October 15, 2021.
There are only limited exceptions to the newly-enacted vaccine mandates:
– Documented medical reasons;
– Sincerely held religious beliefs; and
– Evidence of having recovered from COVID-19 in the last three (3) months, along with a medical certification that the employee is no longer contagious.
Any employee who is unable to or refuses to get vaccinated due to covered by an exception to the Executive Orders discussed above must present a weekly negative COVID-19 test. An employee who cannot comply with the foregoing must not be allowed to present themselves to work and must be placed on leave (paid or unpaid, depending on the employer’s policies).
Moreover, all patrons of establishments covered by the aforementioned Executive Orders must present evidence of COVID-19 vaccination; a negative COVID-19 test performed no more than seventy-two (72) hours prior to presenting themselves to the venue, or evidence that they have recovered from a COVID-19 infection within the last three (3) months and a medical certificate indicating that they are no longer contagious. Employers and private establishments are free to implement more restrictive measures.
Establishments who fail to comply with the directives set forth in these Executive Orders shall be subject to fines and criminal penalties, as well as restrictions on their operating capacity. The aforementioned requirements will remain in place until the state of emergency is lifted. Please be advised that it is expected that additional actions will be taken, including the implementation of further vaccination mandates, in order to encourage vaccination, reduce community transmission, and hasten reaching the threshold for herd immunity on the island.
We continue to monitor this situation as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves. For further information or, if you should have any questions or comments, or if you should require more specific guidance on this issue, please contact the Labor and Employment law team at AMG.