Sending a clear message to employers and employees alike on the prickly subject of mandatory vaccination programs, Texas federal Judge Lynn N. Hughes just dismissed outright a lawsuit brought by 117 employees of a Houston hospital, challenging their terminations for refusal to be vaccinated. The court rejected the employees’ wrongful termination claims under Texas state law as well as their arguments that the Hospital’s policy violated federal law.

It’s also not just the result, but the strong language of the decision, which should give employers comfort that a mandatory vaccination program is lawful.

Background

On April 1, 2021, the Houston Methodist Hospital announced a policy requiring all employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 at the Hospital’s expense by June 7, 2021. As that date approached, Plaintiff Jennifer Bridges and 116 other Hospital employees who had refused that vaccine, filed suit in the Southern District of Texas to block the Hospital’s vaccination requirement and their terminations, arguing that the Hospital’s mandatory vaccination program was unlawful.

Plaintiffs argued that the vaccination program constituted wrongful termination under Texas law and that the injection requirement also violated public policy. The Court rejected these arguments because the Plaintiffs did not establish the essential elements of the wrongful termination claim and because Texas does not recognize a public policy exception to an at-will employment relationship. Among the more absurd arguments advanced by the plaintiffs were that under the Hospital employees were being treated as participants in a human trial in violation of the Nuremburg Code.
Continue Reading Judge Holds that a Hospital can Fire Employees Who Refuse the Vaccine

WORKing Lunch Labor & Employment Webinar Series

Tuesday, June 22nd at 12:30pm ET

Restrictive Covenants 101: NDAs, Non-Competes & Other Tools To Protect Your Company

A company’s confidential information and customer relationships are its lifeblood—and are the assets that can walk out the door too easily with a departing employee. Too few companies take a considered approach to protecting those assets. NDAs

Forget speculation about what is to come: the Biden administration has already acted to unravel the Trump legacy in employment and labor regulation—and to expand worker protections.

Join us on April 15, 2020 at 12:30 p.m. ET for a complimentary webinar, where we will take a deep dive into the regulatory changes immediately impacting your

Tuesday, March 2nd at 12:30pm ET

Employee Leave Laws: Managing the Intersection of FMLA, ADA, and COVID Leave

Many issues can arise when coordinating employee leaves of absence, especially when employee requests are related to medications (opioids or medical marijuana), mental health impairments, remote work, and the pandemic. We are talking about the nuanced problems

While many states have legalized medical and recreational marijuana, marijuana remains an illegal controlled substance under federal law. As we have previously discussed, this has created a conundrum of sorts for employers who want to maintain a drug free workplace. In New York State, the landscape for employers has just gotten more challenging.

Medical marijuana has been legalized in the state since 2014. Governor Cuomo has since announced legalized recreational use may soon follow. Additionally, in New York City, employers are prohibited, with certain exceptions, from testing job applicants for marijuana. Employers can, however, test current employees.

Despite these legislative initiatives, a question still remains: What happens if an employee tests positive at work, but has a prescription for medical marijuana? A recent New York appellate court decision warns employers should proceed with caution.


Continue Reading The Cannabis Conundrum: A Warning For Employers

In 2020, California enacted several new laws affecting employers and their employment policies and procedures. While some of these laws are already in effect, others go into effect over the course of the next few months and years.

Laws That Took Effect in 2020

Workers’ Compensation COVID-19 Liability

By signing SB 1159 into law on September 17, 2020, California Governor Newsom codified his earlier issued executive order, which states that under certain circumstances, when an employee tests positive for COVID-19, there is a rebuttable presumption that the employee contracted the virus while at work and, therefore, said illness is covered by the employers’ workers’ compensation insurance coverage.
Continue Reading 2021 Employment Law Spotlight: California

On the heels of the FDA’s approval of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, the EEOC updated its Technical Assistance Q & A to help employers navigate the latest pandemic related challenges. The EEOC guidance can be found here.

Below are highlights of the EEOC’s guidance, and our practical advice for employers who are considering rolling out a mandatory vaccination program for their employees.

Before jumping on the mandatory vaccination bandwagon, employers should consider these important questions:

  • Does your company need a mandatory vaccination program? Should you leave it to your employees to make their own decisions?
  • If you decide to implement a mandatory vaccination program, how will you announce it, how will you roll it out, and what is the timing? Have you factored in that vaccines may not be available to all employees at the same time?
  • If you decide to implement a mandatory vaccination program, how will you handle requests for exemptions? What will you do with employees who refuse to be vaccinated?
  • What are the pitfalls of a mandatory vaccination program?

Let’s break this down further.

Can employers mandate that employees receive a COVID-19 vaccine?

The answer is yes.

The EEOC’s updated guidance now addresses issues regarding “mandatory vaccinations” and makes clear that employers can mandate that employees get the COVID-19 vaccination. The justification for mandating vaccination, especially during the pandemic, is based on the premise that unvaccinated employees present a “direct threat” to others in the workplace. (K.5.).

Many employers are already stating that once the vaccine is widely available they may mandate a vaccine before employees can return to the office. However, as will be discussed below, even if a mandatory policy is enacted, employees may nonetheless be entitled to exemptions on the basis of disability or religious accommodation.

Do employers need a mandatory program?

The answer depends on your business.

If you run a business where your employees can safely work remotely or socially distance, you may not need it right away. On the other hand, if you run a retail business, school, a restaurant, or any similar business where employees circulate among each other or deal with the public, a mandatory vaccination program may beneficial to your operation. Many retail and customer facing industries believe that it will be a good advertisement if they can say that their employees are all vaccinated.

Whatever the approach, employers should not jump in without weighing the costs and benefits. Things to consider include administrative costs, challenges to implementing a mandatory program, such as training and legal compliance.

How will you roll it out and when?

Here again, messaging and timing must be carefully considered.  Right now, vaccines are only available to frontline healthcare workers. Thus, if your business does not fall into that category, you will need to wait until vaccines are available to your workforce to institute a mandatory program. Even then, you may have to allow for a vaccine rollout over time, and only make the mandate applicable to those employees who are eligible to receive a vaccine.

In the early months of 2021, practical questions about fairness may arise. For example, if an employee wishes to comply but a vaccine is not available to them, should they be excluded from the workplace? Employers adopting a mandatory program will likely face, and should be prepared to handle a number of similar questions.

Next let’s look at the issues surrounding employees receiving the vaccination.
Continue Reading The EEOC Confirms You CAN Mandate a Vaccine, But SHOULD You?

How times change. In 2017, a foul-mouthed advocate of purported employee rights delighted in outing on Facebook his boss—a hard-driving banquet manager who clearly didn’t get the whole employee-relations thing—as a “nasty mother****er.” (To make his disdain inescapably clear, he also posted something about the boss’s mom.) Seldom given the opportunity to blog about something so lurid, we delighted in reprinting the post in full [note: not appropriate for children]:

Continue Reading Thanks for the Clarification: NLRB Says No, You Cannot Ordinarily Throw the F-Bomb At Your Boss

JOIN US: TUESDAY, JULY 21, 2020 | 12:30PM EST

Four months ago, the Dow was close to 30,000, employment rates were at historic highs, the coronavirus was still “novel,” and millions had not yet taken to the streets in global protests against police brutality and racial inequality. The workplace we now return to exists in

In a long awaited landmark ruling by Justice M. Gorsuch, the Supreme Court ruled that Title VII protects gay and transgender workers. The Opinion provides:

Today, we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender. The answer is clear . . . An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.

Justice Gorsuch was joined by Chief Justice Roberts and by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.


Continue Reading The Answer is Clear—Title VII Will Protect Gay and Transgender Workers