In Texas, the race to obtain the COVID-19 vaccine is perhaps akin to a motorized grocery cart rounding the aisle at barely two mph. To date, only 38% of its residents have received the shot. Compared to Vermont and Maine, states ranking No. 1 and 2 in the U.S. with 60% vaccinated, those are paltry numbers.

With that said, perhaps the safest company in the U.S. is Houston Methodist Hospital, with 99% of its employees fully vaccinated. You’ve probably heard of the institution. In April, the hospital announced a policy requiring every member of its workforce to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, stating it would terminate any employee who did not roll up their sleeves in a timely manner.

Granted, COVID-19 has presented many legal questions for employers. With COVID-19 vaccines now easily available in the U.S., many companies in high-risk environments like hospitals and nursing homes face tough questions. Can they require vaccination as a condition of employment?

The court said “yes.” On June 12, Judge Lynn Hughes in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas found such a requirement was legally permissible in Jennifer Bridges v. Houston Methodist Hospital (Case No. 4:21-cv-01774).

The case was a result of a June 10 suspension of 178 workers at the hospital for not meeting the vaccine deadline. The policy prompted more than 115 employees to file the lawsuit, arguing it constituted wrongful termination and violated federal law.

Houston Methodist moved to dismiss the lawsuit. In granting the hospital’s motion, Judge Hughes found the plaintiffs’ comparison of Houston Methodist’s policy to forced medical experimentation during the Holocaust to be “reprehensible.” Yes, you heard right. The plaintiffs actually made that statement.

The court explained the plaintiffs’ claim failed since Texas law only protects employees from termination for refusing to commit an illegal act, and there is nothing illegal about obtaining a COVID-19 vaccine.

The court noted the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) recent COVID-19 vaccination guidance, which states employers can require vaccines for its workforce, subject to reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities or sincerely held religious beliefs. The court also found that Houston Methodist’s vaccine requirement was consistent with public policy.

The court explained that Houston Methodist had not forced any employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Rather, each employee could “freely choose” to accept or refuse the vaccine. But if they refuse, they “simply need to work somewhere else.” The court found that Houston Methodist’s vaccine requirement was “part of the bargain” of employment.

The nearly 200 employees who missed the hospital’s vaccination deadline are presently suspended without pay. They have been given 14 days to get their shots.

The information and opinions expressed are for educational purposes only and are based on current practice, industry related knowledge and business expertise. The information provided shall not be construed as legal advice, express or implied.