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Employers have the law on their side to mandate vaccines, experts say

June 16, 2021

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WASHINGTON (SBG)— A Houston hospital’s decision to mandate that employees get vaccinated against COVID-19 was upheld in court as a judge dismissed claims in a lawsuit by 117 employees as “false” and “irrelevant.”

“Every employment includes limits on the worker’s behavior in exchange for his remuneration. That is all part of the bargain,” U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes wrote in her order on dismissal.

Jennifer Bridges, a registered nurse and plaintiff in the suit, told CNN this is what she expected and plans to appeal. In the lawsuit, Bridges claimed COVID-19 vaccines are “experimental and dangerous” and said she would be wrongly terminated for refusing to take it.

Bridges’ appeal, and others like it, will likely continue to fail in court, according to Eric Feldman, a medical ethics and health policy professor at University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School.

“It’s the same as choosing to not follow other sorts of requirements that your employer might have and in almost all cases, the employer is in a perfectly strong position legally to suggest that another workplace would be a better fit but this is probably not the place you want to be working,” Feldman said.

He said claims COVID-19 vaccines were rushed or not properly researched don’t hold up to scrutiny.

“At this point we probably know more about this vaccine than just about any other vaccine in history,” Feldman said.
Stephanie Rapp-Tully, a partner at Tully Rinckey PLLC who specializes in federal employment law said there can be exemptions for religious beliefs or if an employee has a disability.

“The law allows, currently, for an employer to require conditions of employment such as a vaccination if they deem it necessary,” Rapp-Tully said.

Rapp-Tully said an employer doesn’t necessarily have to prove an employee’s duties require them to be vaccinated in order for them to require it. She said some employers are able to avoid the conflict by allowing remote work to continue.

“It may alleviate company concerns about requiring a vaccination,” Rapp-Tully said.

Like Feldman, Rapp-Tully predicted lawsuits similar to Bridges’ will also fail in court.

Feldman said he suspects many plaintiffs know that, too, and may have objectives separate from winning a lawsuit.

“To make people aware and to bring people on board who they see as seeking common cause with those who are offended by and want to fight against vaccine mandates,” Feldman said.

Feldman said another motivation for employees who object to vaccine mandates to file lawsuits is to “send warning signals” about the bad publicity an employer could receive as a result.

Houston Methodist is the prime example of that, Feldman said, as the 117 employees on the lawsuit represent a mere 0.5% of the hospital’s approximately 22,000 employees.

“I’d say in a sense, the staff has voted and the staff has voted overwhelmingly in favor of a vaccine mandate at that hospital and I think we’re seeing that play out in other places,” Feldman said.

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