Proof of Vaccination Mandate Conflict Resolution from the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings

August 25, 2021

Photo courtesy of WUSA9

After Mayor Bill de Blasio issued an Executive Order formally outlining the details of the Key to NYC proof of vaccination mandate, many businesses were left still questioning how they should respond to noncompliant customers, especially given the situation’s potential for escalation. 

Although the Executive Order did not outline what to do in situations like this, it recommended that hospitality business owners refer to the conflict resolution advice given by the Center for Creative Conflict Resolution at the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings. 

Here are the 4 most important tools to remember, according to the OATH’s webinar. 

1. Self-check

  • Acknowledge physical signs of conflict
  • Flushed cheeks, rapid heartache, clenching of the muscles, stomach or headache, blurry vision, shortness of breath 
  • Slow down your body reactions
    • Short term
  • Self-scan (find the soles of your feet), count to 10, take deep breaths, drink water, step away from the situation 
  • Long term
    • Mediation, exercise, journaling, talking to trusted friends or family 

2. Prevent

  • Prevent by: 
  • Setting the tone
  • Posting clear signage, updating your website and social media about the new policy
  • Simple, clear, positive toned approach 
  • Positive body language, eye contact, keep in mind your tone, communicate a sense of warmth and friendliness 
  • Establishing a rapport
    • Introducing yourself, first name basis, create a connection before enforcing the policy 
  • Maintaining situational awareness
    • Make sure there’s visible signage, be prepared for difficult conversations
  • Signs of escalation
    • Muscle tension, sudden change in body language, pacing or fidgeting, the “rooster stance,” disruptive behaviors
    • Be mindful of what signs you are displaying as well 
  • Importance of non-verbal communication
    • It is more impactful than the words we use 
      • The words we say = 7%
      • Our tone, pitch, speech, silence = 38%
      • Body language, posture, eye contact, proximity  = 55%
    • Impressions are formed within 4 seconds of contact 
    • The mask can get in the way of picking up on nonverbal cues 
  • Communication is culturally relative
    • Tone, volume, body language, eye contact, language, expression of emotion, directness of communication – all variable 
    • Be mindful and aware of differences 

3. Engage

  • Listen to understand 
  • When people speak louder or repeat themselves it is because they don’t feel understood
  • Focus on the experience of the speaker, not the reaction it is bringing up in you
  • Withhold judgment 
  • Acknowledge you understand what they are saying
  • Stay away from debating, offering solutions, or sharing your perspective until you make it clear that you understand and hear what they are talking about 
  • Acknowledge feelings 
    • Explicitly name feelings or inject them into your tone 
    • Pay attention to underlying needs 
  • The mandate touches on people’s needs for: freedom, civil liberties, safety
  • Empathize 
    • Put yourself in another’s shoes
    • Reflect on why others might feel the way they do, and why the issue is important to them 
    • Acknowledge and validate their experience, even if it’s different from yours
    • Build empathy with those that challenge you on this policy without judgement 
    • Questions to keep in mind:
      • Why might someone disagree with the vaccination policy?
      • Why might someone not have their vaccination proof on them?
      • How might someone be impacted if they were inconvenienced in this way?
      • Why might someone not want to get vaccinated?
  • Ask questions 
    • Ask don’t tell 
      • Don’t say: you can’t speak to me like that
      • Do say: what would you like me to know?
    • Use permission-based questions when appropriate
      • Don’t say: I need to interrupt you to tell you the new rules
      • Do say: do you mind if I interrupt you to make sure you have the accurate information about how our space operates within the new guidelines 
    • Present questions with options 
      • Don’t say: this is your only option 
      • Do say: while I can’t seat you indoors, I can seat you outside or book you a later reservation for you with your vaccination proof, which would you prefer?
  • More tools
    • Silence 
      • Limit interruptions
      • When you interrupt, do it to understand or ask a question instead of telling someone what to do or why they’re wrong 
    • Agreement 
      • Find some truth in another’s statement 
      • Don’t validate their behavior, but rather try to find truth 
      • I.e. I agree that this is a real change from how it used to be
    • Apologize 
      • Demonstrate empathy for their experience 
      • Shift anger away from you and to the policy itself 

4. Disengage

  • Remember to end well 
  • Maintain composure
  • Treat others with dignity and respect
  • Be transparent about the policy and next steps
  • Don’t take their reactions personally
  • Keep in mind positive or neutral body language 
  • People can still see you after your conversation 
  • Disengage early if you feel unsafe or in danger 
    • Call 911 

Additionally, the OATH gave operators example phrases to use when communicating with noncompliant customers; this conversation shows how to effectively implement the de-escalatory themes proposed: 

  • To demonstrate listening to understand 
  • “It sounds like you are upset with the policy change, especially since it is different from how things used to be. Is that right?”
  • To demonstrate acknowledging feelings and empathize
    • “This is a new change that none of us in the city anticipated. I understand your disappointment”
  • To demonstrate being clear in your position
    • “We are required to enforce this policy as per NYC regulations. I cannot admit you without proof of vaccination. Please do bring your vaccination card the next time you visit us if you want to eat/exercise/visit the venue indoors”
  • To demonstrate offering options
    • “For now, can I show you some good seats for outdoor dining or offer you a takeout menu?”
  • To demonstrate ending well
    • “Thank you for doing your best to be patient through this. You are a valued customer and we will make sure you feel welcome here” 

Lastly, the OATH highlighted that operators have access to another useful resource at all times: the MEND NYC Mediation Program. This program offers free mediation services for businesses having ongoing conflict; the caveat is that the conflict at hand includes anything besides the vaccination policy. As such, it covers disputes such as: quality of life issues between residents and businesses; neighboring business to business misunderstandings; and negotiation between commercial tenants and landlords. Specific examples of qualifying complaints include everything from noise complaints to trash and sidewalk disputes. The OATH recommends visiting the below sites for more information: 

Founded by attorneys Andreas Koutsoudakis and Michael Iakovou, KI Legal focuses on guiding companies and businesses throughout the entire legal spectrum as it relates to their business including day-to-day operations and compliance, litigation and transactional matters.

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