Experienced, practical advice of a large firm.
Responsive, efficient, top-notch support of a small firm.
By: Lily Crespo Esq.
Quick Takeaway: We covered this case to examine where case law directly contradicts state law. Even though the Texas legislature passed a law banning businesses from requiring vaccines as a pre-requisite to employment, the court in this case nevertheless held that the business was allowed to require vaccines.
Overall, employers, must be careful not to implement vaccine policies in a way that would discriminate against any protected class of individuals. Employers should also have a procedure in place to assess requests for reasonable accommodations due to disabilities and/or sincerely-held religious beliefs.
What happened: In what is believed to be the first court decision on the issue of mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations, the U.S. District Court for Southern Texas upheld a hospital’s policy requiring that all of its employees must be vaccinated in order to remain employed. The hospital suspended almost 200 employees after they failed to get vaccinated by the hospital’s deadline, and announced that it would terminate their employment if they continued to refuse the vaccine. Approximately 117 employees filed a lawsuit challenging the policy. The court, in Jennifer Bridges et al v. Houston Methodist Hospital, easily dismissed the lawsuit, finding the hospital had the right to require all of its employees to be vaccinated in order to continue working there.
What the decision means for employers: While this case was decided in Texas, it may have persuasive value for similar cases in Montana and surrounding states. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s most recent guidance makes clear that employers can require employees to be vaccinated so long as they make reasonable accommodations for disabilities and sincerely-held religious objections to vaccination. While mandatory vaccination policies are most likely to be upheld in situations where employees are working with vulnerable populations such as hospitals and nursing homes, if crafted properly they are likely to enjoy broader application as well.
While not a sign that employers should start requiring proof of vaccination, this case presents a learning opportunity to understand how courts are going to treat vaccination requirements in light of state law.
We will keep track of the legal developments where courts issues holdings in direct opposition to recently passed legislation. The developments from the 2021 Montana legislature will continue to shake out and we will keep you updated.
As you consider these and other issues, we recommend you speak with your school lawyer or contact Bea, Kevin, Megan, Beth, and Lily by email or at 406-542-1300 to discuss these issues.