This spring, Houston Methodist Hospital employees were given a choice: get vaccinate for COVID-19 or resign.
Houston Methodist was the first hospital in the nation to require the shot for its workers. Now, some of the former employees who opted out are suing the hospital for wrongful termination.
The employees’ argument is that their employer shouldn’t be able to force them to take a treatment that hasn’t been fully vetted. The vaccines for COVID-19 aren’t full approved by the FDA, but they do have emergency approval.
But according to Samantha Martinez, an employment lawyer based in Houston, the plaintiffs probably won’t find much relief in court. The hospital’s order is legal, she said.
“What they’re saying is that somehow that law around emergency use authorization of the vaccine grants them the right to be exempt from… getting vaccinated. That’s not actually an exemption. There are some exemptions under other laws, but not that one,” Martinez said.
There are two main exemptions to such an order. One is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. If an employee has a disability that would prevent or interfere with them getting the vaccine, they cannot be required to take the shot. The same is true for someone with a firmly held religious belief.
These kinds of mandates also need to be relevant to the workplace, Martinez said.
“If you have a work group that works from home, that’s never around each other, that never has in-person meetings, there really isn’t a legitimate reason to ask for everybody to be vaccinated,” Martinez said. “If you’re working in a work environment where you’re in a small space where even with masks you don’t have air quality… you also have a duty under OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health [Administration], to keep employees healthy. So it’s really a balancing act.” Martinez said.