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Precedent: Employees Who Refuse to Be Vaccinated for COVID-19 Can Be Terminated

Precedent: Employees Who Refuse to Be Vaccinated for COVID-19 Can Be Terminated

On Saturday, a U.S. federal judge in the Southern District of Texas ruled that the Houston Methodist Hospital can require all employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of employment, setting a precedent that is likely to be implemented nationally.

The case involves 117 nurses and other hospital workers who sued the hospital over its coronavirus vaccination requirement. The judge dismissed the suit, noting that the hospital’s mandate was consistent with public policy.

The ruling that an employer can mandate workers to be vaccinated is one of the first of its kind, upholding the policy of several hospital systems across the U.S.

In December, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued guidance enabling employers to require employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and bar them from the workplace if they refuse (with some religious and disability exceptions). But a guidance does not carry the same weight as a federal court ruling.

Private as well as government employers are not legally required to institute mandatory immunization for employees, but following the Texas precedent it seems highly likely that, if they do institute such policy, they can suspend or terminate employees who refuse to comply.

(Note that in New York, all employers must provide employees with sufficient time to be vaccinated, up to four hours per injection, at their regular rate of pay.)

The lawsuit against Houston Methodist primarily argued that the currently available vaccines are experimental, not fully approved by the FDA, and are dangerous. In his ruling, Judge Lynn Hughes stated that “this claim is false.”

What’s more, the plaintiffs argued that the vaccination requirement violates the Nuremberg Code, equating it with the medical experimentation Nazi doctors performed on concentration camp prisoners during the Holocaust, a comparison Judge Hughes called “reprehensible.”

The forceful decision also clarified that the hospital’s requirement did not constitute coercion; employees are free to choose whether to be vaccinated or not, and if they refuse, “they will simply need to work somewhere else.”