Judge Dismisses Hospital Workers’ Lawsuit Over Mandatory Vaccinations

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A federal judge in Texas upheld a hospital system's mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy by dismissing a lawsuit that claimed vaccines against the coronavirus are experimental.

The lawsuit was filed against Houston Methodist by 117 unvaccinated employees who were told to get vaccinated or lose their jobs. They argued that the hospital's requirement violated public policy, since the COVID-19 vaccines were distributed under the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA's) Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) rather than the FDA's usual processes.

Judge Lynn Hughes of the U.S. District Court for Southern District of Texas said, "This claim is false, and it is also irrelevant." The lead plaintiff "is refusing to accept inoculation that, in the hospital's judgment, will make it safer for their workers and the patients in Methodist's care," he wrote in a June 12 order dismissing the lawsuit.

The FDA has said that the authorized vaccines have met its "rigorous, scientific standards for safety, effectiveness and manufacturing quality" and that the "known and potential benefits clearly outweigh its known and potential risks."

We've rounded up articles and resources from SHRM Online and other trusted media outlets on COVID-19 vaccination policies in the workplace.

Hospital CEO Predicts More Vaccine Mandates

The ruling is the first of its kind regarding mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies, and Houston Methodist CEO Marc Boom predicts that more hospitals will enact vaccine mandates following the order. "We can now put this behind us and continue our focus on unparalleled safety, quality, service and innovation," Boom said. "Our employees and physicians made their decisions for our patients, who are always at the center of everything we do."

(Yahoo! News)

Most Employees Complied

Houston Methodist was the first U.S. medical organization to require employees to get vaccinated. Managers had to get their shots by April 15 and other workers had until June 7. The majority of the hospital system's 26,000 employees complied. The employees who filed the lawsuit, however, claimed that they "are being forced to serve as human 'guinea pigs.' " Houston Methodist is making employees "participate in an experimental vaccine trial as a condition for continued employment," according to the complaint, which was originally filed with a Texas state court and removed to a federal court.

Boom explained the reasons for the policy in an April e-mail to staff. "I want to re-emphasize the reason we are making the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory. It is rather simple—as health care workers we must do everything possible to keep our patients safe and at the center of everything we do. Mandating the vaccine was not a decision we made lightly, but science has proven that the COVID-19 vaccines are very safe and very effective."

(CBS News) and (SHRM Online)

SHRM CEO Discusses Workplace Vaccination Policies

"This is about safety," said Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, president and chief executive officer of the Society for Human Resource Management, in an interview with CNBC's Shepard Smith. Employers must provide employees with a reasonably safe workplace, and firing employees who refuse to get vaccinated generally is a last resort. Many employment relationships are at-will—which means either the employer or the worker can terminate the employment for any lawful reason—and an employer that mandates a vaccine may say the consequence of refusing a vaccine is being fired.

Taylor noted that most of Houston Methodist employees "were celebrating" that they had voluntarily been vaccinated.

(CNBC)

Takeaways from the EEOC's Latest Vaccine Guidance

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), businesses generally may require workers who enter a physical worksite to receive a COVID-19 vaccination without running afoul of federal workplace anti-discrimination laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Genetic Information Nondisclosure Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, employers must consider reasonable accommodations for workers who refuse a vaccine for religious or disability-related reasons, unless such accommodations pose an undue hardship on the employer's operations. Employers also should note that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and state and local authorities may have different requirements.

(SHRM Online)

How Employers Can Help Achieve COVID-19 Herd Immunity

Recent SHRM research shows that 74 percent of employers plan to recommend that their workers get vaccinated. Employers have a critical role to play in helping their employees access accurate information and making it easier for them to get vaccinated, said Andy Slavitt, senior advisor for the White House COVID-19 Response Team, during a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) webcast for SHRM members. 

Demand for vaccinations is leveling off, but HR can help motivate more people to get vaccinated by providing reliable and accurate information. Employees may have questions about side effects, how vaccines affect fertility and other concerns. 

"All of these have good scientific answers to them, and we just want to make sure that people get the straight story," Slavitt explained. If people have the information they need to make a decision, he said, then hopefully many more people will decide to get vaccinated.

(SHRM Online)

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Mandating (or Not) the COVID-19 Vaccine

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