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In an April edition of Ask General Counsel, we asked: Can Employers Require Employees to Receive COVID-19 Vaccinations?
Our answer was “Yes, with some exceptions and if the mandatory vaccine policy is job-related and consistent with business necessity.” This opinion was supported by guidance provided by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC.
Even though employers had this guidance from the EEOC, it was still unsettled whether a court would rule such policies were lawful. Well, on June 12, in Bridges v. Houston Methodist Hospital, a U.S. District Court federal judge dismissed an employee lawsuit challenging a mandatory vaccine policy. This is the first court opinion discussing such policies and is favorable to employers with similar policies.
On April 1, Houston Methodist Hospital announced a new policy requiring all employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 by June 7, or face termination.
A total of 117 employees, including Jennifer Bridges, sued to block the requirement and resulting terminations. Bridges and her co-workers argued that the policy violated Texas public policy and federal law, and that termination of employees who refused to be vaccinated would constitute wrongful termination. The court disagreed and upheld the employer policy. If employees refused to be vaccinated, unless they had valid religious or disability grounds, their employment could be terminated.
What Does Bridges v. Houston Methodist Hospital Mean for Employers?
While a Texas case may not seem relevant to Virginia employers, it sheds light on how courts across the nation may view mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies for employees. This case is the first opinion addressing whether employers can require employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Notably, the court found that such vaccine policies are consistent with public policy.
This case, as well as the EEOC guidance, seems to support mandatory vaccination policies, provided required exceptions are included, consistent with federal and state employment law.
Employers should continue to monitor guidance from state and local governments to ensure they stay in compliance with any changing recommendations or regulations. Attorneys at General Counsel will continue to monitor recommendations and legislation.