Given the recent increase in COVID-19 positivity rates in Puerto Rico, on Thursday, August 5, 2021, Governor Pedro Pierluisi issued Executive Order No. 2020-062, adopting new vaccination measures for different sectors. This new executive order (EO) will take effect on August 16, 2021, and will continue until the Emergency Declaration for COVID-19 has ended. Vaccination is now mandated for the following industries:
Tourism and Hospitality Sector
The EO now requires all employees or contracted staff working in lodging businesses to be vaccinated with any of the three vaccines authorized by the FDA in order to work on premises. As per the Tourism Company’s interpretation, this mandate also applies to “staff members working in the property including casinos, gym, spa, pool, beach, golf courses, experience providers and concessionaries.”
Per the EO, if the employee fails to provide proof of vaccination, they must present evidence on a weekly basis of a negative qualified SARS-CoV2 COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of the weekly check. This weekly check of unvaccinated employees must take place every 7 calendar days until the employee presents proof of vaccination or while the emergency persists.
Furthermore, the EO requires that all hotel guests show proof of being completely vaccinated to be allowed in the hotel facilities. Likewise, if guests are not vaccinated due to medical or religious exemptions (discussed below), they would also have to show negative COVID-19 test results from tests taken within 72 hours or a positive COVID-19 test result from the past 3 months accompanied by a medical certificate stating the guest has recuperated from the virus. If the guest’s stay is longer than a week, then the guest must show the aforementioned documents on a weekly basis.
Finally, if hotel employees or guests do not provide proof of vaccination and are not exempt from vaccination, and do not show the required test results, then employees are barred from working in person and guests are prohibited from staying overnight at the hotel. All businesses operating within or in the vicinity of hotels, hostels and inns are also encouraged to apply the EO requirements.
Executive Branch Contractors
The EO also mandates vaccination for all Executive Branch contractors who work in person or frequently visit public agencies. If independent contractors or their employees refuse vaccination and their presence is required due to the nature of their work or because it is within their employer’s discretion, the government agency can take necessary measures, which could include canceling the contracts.
In complying with this requirement, it shall be sufficient for the contractor or its employees to demonstrate that by the effective date of the EO they began the vaccination process with the first dose. The second dose must be completed no later than September 30, 2021. If the employee does not get vaccinated, they must provide weekly negative COVID-19 test results from tests taken within 72 hours or a positive COVID-19 test result from the past 3 months accompanied by a medical certificate stating the employee has recuperated from the virus. In the case of independent contractors or their employees, if they visit the agency frequently but not daily, they must comply with the testing requirements every time they visit the facilities in different weeks.
Vaccination is also mandated for healthcare facility employees. For purposes of this EO, healthcare facilities include places where health services are directly offered to the population. This includes, but is not limited to, hospitals, clinical laboratories, emergency rooms, medical services, health centers, primary physician and specialists’ offices, therapy centers, blood banks, pharmacies, care centers for the elderly, health clinics, and medicinal cannabis dispensaries, among others. If the individuals within this sector refuse vaccination, they will not be able to attend work in person. Therefore, the employer should take the relevant applicable measures, including allowing for regular or unpaid leave if applicable.
Employees must show their employer proof that they have already been completely vaccinated, or, if they have not, then they must show proof that they have started the vaccination process on or before August 16, and must complete the vaccination process, and show proof of the same, by September 30, 2021. If the employees fail to provide proof of vaccination, they must present evidence on a weekly basis of a negative qualified SARS-CoV2 COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of the weekly check. This weekly check of unvaccinated employees must take place every 7 calendar days until the employee presents proof of vaccination or while the emergency persists.
Exemptions Applicable to All Sectors Covered by Executive Order
Employees in any of the mentioned sectors, however, would be exempt from compulsory vaccination if they provide the following: (1) medical certificate detailing that the employee’s immune system is compromised and/or that they are medically prohibited from being vaccinated; or (2) a sworn statement from a religious leader indicating that vaccination would be against the employee’s religious doctrines/dogmas. If the employee does not get vaccinated because of one of these exceptions, they must also provide the weekly negative test results or a positive COVID-19 test result, accompanied by a medical certificate stating the employee has recovered from the virus.