Skip to main content
Full Menu
News Stories

Arbitrator rules in union’s favor on medical accommodations

News Stories

An independent arbitrator has upheld the union's position and ruled that the city must offer work outside school buildings to immunocompromised members who — even vaccinated — are at high risk of contracting serious illness from a COVID-19 infection.

In the arbitration proceeding, the city was also forced to back off its original plans to offer no exemptions for those unable to take the vaccine for medical or religious reasons. See the arbitrator's order »

The online application form for a medical accommodation or an exemption will go live on SOLAS on Monday, Sept. 13. UFT members will have until Monday, Sept. 20, to apply.

The city has also agreed—based on the arbitrator's determination—that other UFT members who decline to be vaccinated may go on unpaid leave or take severance, both with a year's health coverage. We were also able to secure an early-leave provision for women in their third trimester of pregnancy.

The city's vaccine mandate goes into effect on Monday, Sept. 27. All DOE-employed UFT members who do not qualify for an accommodation or exemption must have at least one dose of the vaccine by then.

Medical accommodations

Vaccinated UFT members with weakened immune systems due to a documented medical condition may apply via SOLAS for medical accommodation. These requests must be documented in writing by a medical doctor.

If the accommodation is approved, the immunocompromised member must be offered work in a non-school building as long as their medical condition lasts.

Medical exemptions

Permanent medical exemptions to the vaccine mandate will only be considered where the individual has a documented allergic reaction such that the member cannot receive any of the three authorized vaccines.

Temporary medical exemptions to delay the vaccine will be granted when:

  • Within the isolation period after a positive COVID diagnosis
  • Within 90 days of monoclonal antibody treatment of COVID-19
  • Conditions that may warrant temporary medical exemption because of active therapy or treatment, such as chemotherapy, stem cell transplant, CAR T-cell therapy.
  • Pericarditis or myocarditis

These requests must be documented in writing by a doctor. In cases where members seek exemptions for medical conditions not on the above list, an independent arbitrator will decide if the exemption is appropriate.

If denied, the member will have one school day to file a notice of appeal. An independent arbitrator will promptly review the appeal—and convene a hearing if necessary—before issuing a final determination. During the appeal process, the member will be temporarily granted the exemption and kept on payroll.

Religious exemptions

Exemption requests will be considered for recognized and established religious organizations and not where the objection is personal, political or philosophical in nature. Applications for religious exemptions must be documented in writing by clergy or a religious official.

Appeals of religious exemption denials will be heard by the same independent arbitrators ruling on medical exemption appeals. During the appeal process, the member will be temporarily granted the exemption and kept on payroll.

Members in their last trimester of pregnancy

UFT members in their last trimester of pregnancy, whether vaccinated or not, have the option to go on leave immediately.

  • First, members must exhaust their CAR days.
  • If the member exhausts their CAR days before giving birth, the member can decide to start the six weeks of paid parental leave (if eligible) early. Members in their first two trimesters of pregnancy must be vaccinated if they want to remain on payroll.

The UFT has organized a special virtual information session on Tuesday, Sept. 14, at 5 p.m. for members in their third trimester. Register now »

Options for all other UFT members

Members who are not vaccinated by Sept. 27 but do not qualify for a medical accommodation or an exemption will be placed by the DOE on leave without pay effective September 28, 2021 through November 30, 2021. Once placed on leave, the member must be offered two options, both of which include one year's health coverage.

Option 1 - Unpaid Leave 

  • The DOE will automatically put you on this leave starting Sept. 28 if you do not have at least one dose of the COVID‑19 vaccine
  • By Nov. 30, you must get at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine or inform the DOE that if you will extend the leave until Sept. 5, 2022
  • You will have medical coverage until Sept. 5, 2022
  • Your position will be held at your school until Sept. 5, 2022
  • You may not work elsewhere while on this leave
  • You will not qualify for unemployment while on this leave because you are still an employee of the DOE. The leave status is what allows your position to be held if you choose to return.
  • If you are not vaccinated by Sept. 5, 2022, and the vaccine mandate is still in effect, you will be automatically deemed voluntarily resigned from the DOE.
  • If at any time between now and the end of the school year you choose to become vaccinated, you may come off the leave and return to work.

Option 2 - Severance 

  • You must decide by Oct. 28 if you will take this severance option and resign from the DOE.
  • You will receive 1:1 compensation for your CAR days (up to 100 days) but these days will not be pensionable time.
  • You will receive medical insurance until Sept. 5, 2022, as long as you do not have access to other health insurance coverage during that period.
  • Taking severance will be considered an involuntary and nondisciplinary departure for unemployment purposes.
  • You will not be prevented from returning to work with the DOE in the future; however, you will have to find a position—you are not guaranteed the right to return to your school.
  • You can seek and take employment opportunities elsewhere.
MLC lawsuit continues

The arbitrator's ruling does not resolve the underlying issue of whether the city Department of Health has the legal authority to require that DOE and other employees be vaccinated. Only the courts can determine the legality of the mandate. The Municipal Labor Committee, of which the UFT is a member, filed a lawsuit challenging the mandate in state court this week. The UFT remains a party to that lawsuit.