Law Professor Sues over University’s COVID-19 Policy

Allen Smith, J.D. By Allen Smith, J.D. August 6, 2021

​[Editor's note: George Mason University has granted a medical exemption to the law professor who sued over the university's COVID-19 policy, according to the New Civil Liberties Alliance on Aug. 17.]

A George Mason University law professor sued the university on Aug. 3, challenging its COVID-19 policy for staff.

The policy requires all unvaccinated faculty and staff members, including those who can demonstrate natural immunity from a prior COVID-19 infection, to wear masks on campus, physically distance and undergo frequent COVID-19 testing.

The university has no compelling state interest in overriding the professor's personal autonomy "by effectively forcing him to receive a vaccine or suffer professional consequences," stated the New Civil Liberties Alliance, which is suing on the professor's behalf. It claimed the policy was coercive and unconstitutional.

The plaintiff also claimed the policy violated federal law provisions on emergency use authorization of the vaccines. The emergency use authorization (EUA) statute states that anyone must be informed of the option to accept or refuse a product granted EUA status. A federal district court in Texas has dismissed a similar claim. George Mason University did not respond to a request for comment.

We've gathered articles on the news from SHRM Online and other media outlets.

'Robust Natural Immunity'

The plaintiff said that "he has acquired robust natural immunity, confirmed unequivocally" by multiple antibody tests. He added that his immunologist advised him that it's medically unnecessary to undergo vaccination. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people get vaccinated even if they've recovered from COVID-19 because medical experts don't yet know how long after recovering someone is protected from getting sick again.


Can Employers Require Vaccines for Those Who Had COVID-19?

Federal law allows employers to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for employees who've been infected with COVID-19 and those who haven't, legal experts say. Kevin Troutman, an attorney with Fisher Phillips in Houston, said, "Employers have the legal right to require employees to be vaccinated, but each employer must decide whether a requirement—rather than encouragement—is the right choice for them. The more people who are vaccinated, the sooner life and work can return to normal."

(SHRM Online)

What If Workers Refuse Vaccination?

As mandatory COVID-19 vaccines become more widespread, many employers are asking what they can do if workers refuse. Some employers are firing workers who won't take the vaccine, and others are requiring unvaccinated employees to submit to weekly testing and take other safety precautions. But disability and religious accommodations must be provided.

(SHRM Online)

Unvaccinated Workers at Houston Methodist Resigned or Were Fired

More than 150 Houston Methodist employees have resigned or were fired, following the hospital system's requirement they get a COVID-19 vaccine to remain employed. The employees had two weeks to get the vaccine after they were suspended for not following the mandate. On June 12, a judge dismissed a lawsuit some workers had filed against Houston Methodist regarding its vaccine mandate.

(SHRM Online)

Vaccination Mandates Increase

In response to the surge in COVID-19 cases fueled by the delta variant, more companies, including Disney and Walmart, are requiring workers to get vaccinated. The Walt Disney Co. gave its U.S.-based salaried and nonunion, hourly employees 60 days to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. Walmart will require employees at its headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., and certain employees who travel in the U.S. to get vaccinated by Oct. 4, unless an exception applies. Tyson Foods will require many U.S.-based workers to get vaccinated and is aiming to have all processing plant and corporate employees comply by Nov. 1. President Joe Biden announced on July 29 that federal employees will be required to confirm they are vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to frequent testing.

(SHRM Online)

Why Aren't Vaccine Mandates More Common?

One fear that companies have with broad vaccine mandates is that they could drive away employees when workers are already in short supply, especially in industries like retail and restaurants. But not requiring vaccines may make other groups of workers anxious and more likely to quit.

(The New York Times)

[Want to learn more? Join us at the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo 2021, taking place Sept. 9-12 in Las Vegas and virtually.]



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