New York State Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) ruled that court workers who were fired for refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19 must be rehired and given back pay, according to a report from The New York Post.
The decision requires the Unified Court System to “cease and desist” enforcing policies that mandate vaccination or regular testing for COVID-19 for non-judicial employees.
According to the ruling, court workers “who lost accrued leave, compensation or employment” must be compensated, including back pay with interest paid “at the maximum legal rate.”
The ruling is a result of a lawsuit filed by ten unions, including the New York State Court Officers Association.
Administrative Law Judge Mariam Manichaikul determined that court officials “had a duty to negotiate” with the unions regarding vaccination and testing requirements.
She stated that since the UCS failed to enter into negotiations before enacting the mandate and did not display a “genuine desire to negotiate thereafter,” it did not meet “the criteria under which an employer is permitted to take unilateral action in an emergency situation.”
The UCS held talks with the unions from August to December 2021 but did not reach an agreement.
According to Dennis Quirk, president of the New York State Court Officers Association, the decision affects at least 25 court workers.
Quirk stated that roughly 200 workers were fired, resigned, or retired due to the mandate imposed by former state Court of Appeals Chief Judge Janet DiFiore.
DiFiore resigned in July following an ethics investigation regarding a public battle with Quirk.
Quirk supports vaccinations but argues that the mandate infringed on individuals’ rights. He referred to the ruling as a “landmark decision.”
Quirk stated, “You can’t violate an individual’s right to choose. We live in America, not Russia.”
A spokesperson for Mayor Eric Adams’ (D) office noted that the ruling would not apply to other city workers.
“There have been rulings on the city’s mandate that specifically find this type of relief is not necessary or warranted,” the spokesperson stated.
UCS spokesperson Lucian Chalfen said that court officials “are reviewing the decision” to determine whether to appeal.