Texas Set a Precedent for Wrongful Termination in the COVID-19 Era: What You Need to Know
For decades, wrongful termination lawsuits have been common for issues like gender discrimination and retaliation. Today, wrongful termination lawsuits are shifting toward issues concerning medical freedom. For instance, employees are filing lawsuits against employers who want them to get the COVID-19 vaccine to keep their jobs.
The first COVID-19 vaccine mandates in the U.S. came from hospitals requiring all staff members, including doctors and nurses, to get the shot. One of those hospitals – Houston Methodist in Texas – was sued by employees who didn’t agree with the new policy. Most people were expecting the mandate to be overturned, but that’s not what happened.
In June 2021, Texas set a precedent for vaccine requirements as a condition of employment. In Bridges v. Houston Methodist Hospital, the court dismissed hospital employees’ claims that mandating the COVID-19 vaccine was unlawful. Siding with the employer, this is the first ruling to allow an employer to mandate a specific type of medical treatment.
In the past, it would have been extremely difficult for an employer to require mandatory medical treatment. However, since the pandemic has been ongoing for some time, the threat to public health is greater than ever before.
Lawyers, employers, and employees have argued extensively over the legality of vaccine requirements for a long time. With no previous cases of similar nature, it’s taken a long time for any official ruling on the matter. However, we’re finally getting some answers, and it’s not looking good for employees.
Employers can legally mandate the COVID-19 vaccine
Many employees see vaccine mandates as a violation of their medical freedom. It doesn’t seem legal for an employer to require employees to receive medical treatment they don’t want.
In fact, many experts argue that the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act that grants emergency use authorization (EUA) prohibits EUA vaccines from being made mandatory.
However, Texas doesn’t think so, and as of July 2021, officials are saying the mandates are legal with few exceptions.
In July 2021, lawyers from the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that private companies and government agencies can require employees to get the vaccine as a condition of employment, even though the vaccine is only authorized for emergency use.
Since then, the federal government has announced that all federal employees and contractors will be required to get the shot or submit to regular testing. Some states, like New York, are encouraging private businesses to adopt similar mandates.
There are officially recognized exemptions
According to the EEOC, employers must allow exemptions under certain circumstances. Religious objections and medical reasons are grounds for an exemption when the employer can make an accommodation. Accommodations include required weekly testing, wearing a mask in the office, or working from home.
Can employees sue for wrongful termination after refusing the vaccine?
While the DOJ has declared vaccine mandates legal, it’s still possible for a court to come to a different conclusion. Right now, employees don’t have much recourse when they can be offered an accommodation. However, if an employer wants to mandate weekly testing, for example, employees might have a case.
Medical tests are considered a form of medical treatment. If enough lawsuits are filed, courts might consider requiring employers to make accommodations that don’t require medical treatment. However, that will depend entirely on the lawsuits filed and the court.
You can’t predict the outcome of a wrongful termination case
Sometimes cases seem open and shut, but the judge rules differently than expected. Other times, cases might not seem like they have merit, but the judge thinks otherwise.
If you’re not a lawyer, it’s not possible to predict the outcome of your case. That’s why it’s important for you to pursue your claim even if you don’t think you’ll win. You might feel defeated, but if you connect with some lawyers, you might find someone who believes they can win your case.
Connect with an employment law firm
If you’ve been terminated for refusing to get vaccinated or tested, your best course of action is to get a free consultation with a wrongful termination attorney. Don’t try to fight your case on your own. It’s hard to recover the appropriate damages in a wrongful termination case when you’re representing yourself.
Don’t just decide your case isn’t worth pursuing. Every change that is ever made in the law begins with someone willing to challenge the system. Let the courts decide if you were terminated for an unlawful reason. Your case – along with others – just might tip the law in favor of employees and medical freedom.