More Litigation Coming Over Vaccine Mandates

One of the first lawsuits to be filed over vaccine mandates was dismissed in June by a Texas district court that found limits on employee behavior is “part of the bargain” of employment. The suit challenged Houston Methodist Hospital’s vaccine mandate after the hospital suspended 178 employees for failing to meet the vaccination deadline. 

In their claim, Houston Methodist employees argued that taking the vaccine couldn’t be mandatory since the FDA has only authorized COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use. Plaintiffs also alleged wrongful discharge under a public policy exception to the employment at-will doctrine under a Texas law that allows employees to sue for wrongful termination if they are fired for refusing to perform an illegal act. After the district court struck down their arguments, the plaintiffs have appealed the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

The Texas district court’s ruling is considered the first of its kind in litigation over vaccine mandates, but it will hardly be the last. Recently, lawsuits have been filed against a California university, a Los Angeles school, a New Mexico detention center, and a North Carolina sheriff, all using similar arguments that the vaccines are experimental since they have only been approved for emergency use and, as such, taking them cannot be mandated.

Some states are also stepping into the fray, looking to pass laws that make it unlawful for employers to discriminate against an employee because of their vaccination status. Montana passed a law in May making vaccination status a protected class and barring employers from requiring employees to receive a vaccine that has only been authorized for emergency use by the FDA. 

According to Ballotpedia, 20 states currently prohibit proof-of-vaccination requirements — some through executive order and others through new legislation.  Four states – California, Maryland, New York and Virginia — have implemented policies requiring state employees to either be vaccinated or be subject to routine COVID-19 testing.

More legislation is pending in other states, including pending bills in Indiana, Oregon, and Pennsylvania that would allow unvaccinated employees to sue private employers over vaccine mandates. 

Given the changing landscape surrounding COVID-19 vaccine mandates, employers considering the implementation of such a mandate should consult with legal counsel to minimize their risk of potential litigation. 

HBL has experience in all areas of benefits and employment law, offering a comprehensive solution to all your business benefits and HR/employment needs. We help ensure you are in compliance with the complex requirements of ERISA and the IRS code, as well as those laws that impact you and your employees. Together, we reduce your exposure to potential legal or financial penalties. Learn more by calling 470-571-1007.

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Hall Benefits Law, LLC

HBL offers employers comprehensive legal guidance on benefits in mergers and acquisitions, Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs), executive compensation, health and welfare benefits, healthcare reform, and retirement plans. We counsel a wide spectrum of clients including small, mid-sized, and large companies, 401(k) investment advisors, health insurance brokers, accountants, attorneys, and HR consultants, just to name a few. HBL is passionate about advising clients, and we are dedicated to our mission: to provide comprehensive, personalized, and practical ERISA and benefits legal solutions that exceed client expectations.
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