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Court Issues First Decision on Mandatory Vaccinations at Work

by Jennifer Shaw and Melissa Whitehead | | June 16, 2021

On June 12, 2021, in a case of first impression, a federal district court judge in Houston tossed out a lawsuit filed by employees of a hospital challenging the hospital’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy.

The hospital’s policy is straightforward.  All employees must be vaccinated against COVID-19, unless they have a medical contraindication or religious belief preventing them from doing so. Any employee who fails to provide proof of vaccination or request an exception is given 14 days to comply, and then terminated if they take no action.

On May 28, 2021, more than 100 employees filed suit challenging the policy. The Court would have none of it, and dismissed the case in full.

First, the judge noted that Texas law protects employees from termination only if they refuse to commit an illegal act, which does not apply to COVID-19 vaccinations.  The judge also found that the hospital’s policy is consistent with the public policy of preventing COVID-19 spread, relying in part on the EEOC’s guidance permitting employers to mandate vaccinations, subject to valid medical or religious objections.

What about the argument that the current COVID-19 vaccines are only approved for “emergency use?”  The judge ruled that the federal statute allowing the emergency use authorization of vaccines governs the Secretary of Health and Human Services, not private employers.  And the plaintiffs’ claim that requiring COVID-19 vaccinations is a violation of the Nuremberg Code? The Court flatly rejected the argument, stating that, “[e]quating the injection requirement to medical experimentation in concentration camps is reprehensible.”

Put simply, as at-will employees, the plaintiffs had two choices: comply with the hospital’s policy or find another job.  Suing the hospital was not a viable option.

Of course, in states prohibiting mandatory vaccination policies, or with a strong public policy exception to at-will employment, the outcome of this case may have been different.  But, this decision is important.  Read it here.

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