Hospital Workers Required to Get COVID Vaccine Sue Employer; Court Sides with the Health Care System

Houston Medical Health Care System required its employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19 in March. By May, several employees filed suit against the hospital.
By: | July 3, 2021

When Houston Methodist Hospital created a requirement in March 2021 that all staffers be vaccinated for COVID-19, not all of the health care system’s employees were on board.

Many, in fact, protested the mandate, after Houston Methodist began suspending staffers who did not comply. More than 100 staffers then filed suit against their employer.

In their lawsuit, the staffers referred to the vaccines as “unapproved” and “experimental.” They asked for temporary injunction against the policy.

Houston Methodist, which is located in Texas, was the first major health care system in the U.S. to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations. According to CEO Marc Boom, the hospital system is almost at 100% of its goal.

“We are nearly 100% compliant with our COVID-19 vaccine mandate with 24,947 of us being fully vaccinated. Houston Methodist is officially the first hospital system in the country to achieve this goal for the benefit of its patients,” Boom said in a statement.

“We had only 178 full-time or part-time employees who did not get fully vaccinated or were not granted an exemption or deferral,” Boom explained.

He added that just around 200 individuals were suspended for noncompliance.

The lawsuit, which was filed in early May, was argued in June. By the time it reached the judge’s desk, 116 plaintiffs had joined the suit.

U.S. District Court Judge Lynn Hughes heard the case.

The staffers argued again that the U.S.-approved COVID-19 vaccinations were “experimental and dangerous” and it would be “wrongful” to terminate an employee for refusing vaccination.

Houston Methodist argued that such claims against the vaccines were untrue and unfounded. The vaccines have proven useful and effective, with three recent scientific studies showing that both Pfizer and Moderna recipients are unlikely to need boosters so long as the virus does not mutate further.

“With more than 300 million doses administered in the United States alone, the vaccines have proven to be extremely safe,” Houston Methodist said.

Houston Methodist also argued that, under Texas law, workers were protected from termination only if they refused to commit a criminal act that carries criminal penalties.

Receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, it argued, is not an illegal act and carries no criminal penalties. Therefore suspension or potential termination for noncompliance is not illegal or “wrongful” under the law.

When a staffer likened the mandate to that of “forced medical experimentation during the Holocaust,” Judge Hughes admonished the plaintiff.

“Methodist is trying to do their business of saving lives without giving them … COVID-19,” Hughes later wrote.

She dismissed the lawsuit, siding with Houston Medical. In her dismissal, she noted that the plaintiffs refusal is jeopardizing not just their own health, but also “the health of doctors, nurses, support staff, patients and their families.”

As a reminder: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced back in December 2020 that companies can legally mandate employees and new hires to be vaccinated for the COVID-19 virus. Exceptions include for religious reasons or disability.

Scorecard: The 116 staffers who filed suit against Houston Methodist will either have to get vaccinated or find employment elsewhere.

Takeaway: This acts as a cautionary tale for businesses looking to implement vaccination mandates. Review your employment practices, see if a vaccination mandate is a necessity to keep your employees and customers safe, and be prepared for retaliation in the courts if a group of employees do not wish to comply. &

Autumn Demberger is the content strategist at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

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