The Vaccine Tug Of War Between Texas Employers & Employees
Late last week, 117 hospital workers sued Houston Methodist Hospital in a Montgomery County, Texas court, challenging the hospital’s requirement that they get the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of continued employment, unless they had a medical or religious excuse. The lead plaintiff, Jennifer Bridges, was a registered nurse at the hospital and objected to being vaccinated on the grounds that the vaccine is still experimental and that workers were being used as human guinea pigs to test an unproven vaccine. One issue, is that COVID-19 vaccines have been approved for Emergency Use Authorization (“EUA”) only, but are still pending final approval by the United States Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”). Nevertheless, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (“OSHA”) regulations place a general duty on all employers to provide a safe and healthy workplace free of known hazards, which includes taking precautions against the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. Moreover, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has stated that as long as EEO laws are not violated, an employer may mandate that employees be vaccinated against COVID-19. But, how does conflicting legal authority and diverse public opinion affect an employer’s ability to institute programs to maintain a safe workplace, including encouraging or mandating that their employees be vaccinated against COVID-19?