A federal judge in the Southern District of Texas recently upheld an employer’s requirement that its employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 or be terminated from employment.
In Bridges v. Houston Methodist Hospital, Jennifer Bridges and 116 other employees of Houston Methodist argued that the Hospital was unlawfully forcing its employees to be injected or be fired.
The employees first argued that if they are fired for refusing to be injected with a vaccine, they will be wrongfully terminated. However, the law only protects employees from being terminated for refusing to commit an act carrying criminal penalties to the employee. The court dismissed this argument because receiving a COVID-19 vaccination is not an illegal act and it carries no criminal penalties.
The employees also argued that mandatory vaccination violates public policy. Texas, unlike Pennsylvania, does not recognize a public policy exception to at-will employment. Nevertheless, the court held that if it did, the vaccination requirement is consistent with public policy insofar as the Supreme Court has previously held that involuntary quarantine for contagious diseases and state-imposed requirements of mandatory vaccination does not violate due process.
This was the first federal decision regarding COVID vaccination requirements and what this means for employers in Pennsylvania and other states remains to be seen. We recommend that you consult with an attorney at KingSpry if you are considering imposing a vaccination requirement in the workplace.