Illinois Health System Settles Lawsuit over Vaccine Mandate

Leah Shepherd By Leah Shepherd August 26, 2022
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person receiving vaccine shot

​The NorthShore University Health System in Illinois recently signed a $10.3 million settlement to end a lawsuit over its COVID-19 vaccine requirement. Employees brought a class-action lawsuit after they were denied a religious exemption to the system's vaccine policy.

NorthShore said 523 employees requested and were denied religious exemptions and accommodations to its policy requiring COVID-19 vaccination between July 1, 2021, and Jan. 1, 2022. About half of them became compliant with the vaccine policy, and about half were fired or resigned based on their religious objection to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the settlement.

We've rounded up a group of relevant articles from SHRM Online and other trusted news sources.

First Class-Action Lawsuit for Health Care Workers

The settlement represents the nation's first class-action lawsuit for health care workers over a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, according to Liberty Counsel, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of 14 employees who were denied a religious exemption. The settlement still needs approval from a federal judge.

(Becker's Hospital Review)

Religious Objections

The lawsuit alleged that NorthShore's vaccine mandate discriminated against employees because of their Christian religious beliefs, citing the use of fetal tissue in medical research. The employees who agreed to get vaccinated despite their religious objections may be eligible to receive $3,000, while those who were terminated could get $25,000.

(Campus Safety News)

Altering Vaccine Policy

As part of the settlement, NorthShore will now allow employees to be unvaccinated if they have an approved exemption. A statement from Northshore read, "We continue to support systemwide, evidence-based vaccination requirements for everyone who works at NorthShore–Edward-Elmhurst Health and thank our team members for helping to keep our communities safe. The settlement reflects implementation of a new system-wide vaccine policy, which will include accommodation for team members with approved exemptions, including former employees who are rehired."

(CBS News)

Process for Religious Exemption

Employers generally must explore reasonable accommodations for employees who refuse to get vaccinated against the coronavirus based on a sincerely held religious belief—but objections based on personal or political views are not protected under federal anti-discrimination laws.

Employers should notify employees of the religious exemption process and forms to be used as well as train supervisors to contact HR if workers raise concerns about the employer's policies. When HR professionals aren't sure if an objection is based on religion, they may ask additional questions to make a full evaluation.

(SHRM Online)

Business Necessity for Vaccine Requirement

Employers can require that all employees receive the vaccine, but this policy needs to be job-related and consistent with business necessity. If a vaccination requirement screens out a worker with a disability, the employer must show that unvaccinated employees would pose a direct threat to the health or safety of individuals in the workplace.

(SHRM Online)

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