Last week, Houston Methodist, a hospital in Texas, was in the headlines because it suspended 178 members of staff for being unvaccinated against COVID-19.
In April, the hospital mandated that its employees be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Monday 7 June. Anyone that failed to comply or apply for a medical or religious exemption by then would face a two-week unpaid suspension.
If the employees then failed to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in that fortnight then they would face the sack.
Although the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has published guidance saying federal laws “do not prevent an employer from requiring all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19”, 117 Houston Methodist employees have taken the hospital to court about the vaccine mandate.
However, over the weekend, those employees faced a setback as a federal judge in Texas dismissed the lawsuit against Houston Methodist.
Instead, US district judge Lynn Hughes issued a ruling that upheld the hospital’s April policy saying the decision was in line with US public policy. He also rejected the argument that COVID-19 vaccines are experimental and dangerous.
In his judgement, Hughes also noted that the employees were not being coerced.
“Methodist is trying to do their business of saving lives without giving them the COVID -19 virus. It is a choice made to keep staff, patients, and their families safer.”
He continued to state that if the plaintiffs don’t want to have the COVID-19 vaccine, then they simply will need to find employment elsewhere.
Hughes concluded: “If a worker refuses an assignment, changed office, earlier start time, or other directive, he may be properly fired.
“Every employment includes limits on the worker’s behavior in exchange for his remuneration. That is all part of the bargain.”
According to the New York Times, there are suggestions that the plaintiffs will appeal the ruling, potentially in the supreme court.
Their lawyer Jared Woodfill issued a statement saying: “This is just one battle in a larger war to protect the rights of employees to be free from being forced to participate in a vaccine trial as a condition for employment.”
However, Houston Methodist suggested that they will continue with proceedings to lay off any suspended employees who are not fully vaccinated by 21 June.