Courts Side with the Vaccine
Going into our third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, courts nationwide are consistently siding with companies that impose and enforce a vaccine mandate. A wide variety of challenges have been made against vaccine mandates, many of them unsuccessful. Courts have foreclosed several arguments against vaccine mandates, and it will take a rare scenario and unique argument to circumvent their frequent dispelling of the following recurrent arguments.
First, many courts agree that employees do not have a fundamental constitutional right or liberty at stake. As such, courts employ a highly deferential rational basis test when analyzing these challenges. Essentially the question becomes, did the employer have a rational basis for implementing the policy? The answer is a resounding yes, with courts and employers citing information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, peer-reviewed studies, and medical professionals about the vital role vaccination plays in ending this public health crisis. See, e.g., Troogstad v. City of Chicago, No. 21 C 5600, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 226665 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 24, 2021); Maniscalco v. N.Y.C. Dep’t of Educ., No. 21-cv-5055 (BMC), 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 184971 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 23, 2021), aff’d, No. 21-2343, 2021 U.S. App. LEXIS 30967 (2d Cir. Oct. 15, 2021).
Next, courts have quelled arguments about natural immunity, even where they acknowledge equal benefits to vaccine-induced protection. Courts have deferred to CDC guidance and reason that vaccination in addition to natural immunity can reduce the severity of symptoms, and testing requirements for unvaccinated workers allows for earlier detection. Halgren v. City of Naperville, No. 21-cv-05039, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 241777, at *77-90 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 19, 2021); Am.’s Frontline Drs. v. Wilcox, No. EDCV 21-1243 JGB (KKx), 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 144477, at *16 (C.D. Cal. July 30, 2021). Understandably, courts are yielding to what the data shows: the virus’s ability to transmit rapidly and how severely it has impacted the national economy thus far.
Challengers often resort last to a public policy argument, but courts have similarly rejected these arguments. Typically, challengers argue that vaccination (a medical decision) should be a choice. Courts, however, tend to weigh this argument against the doctrine of employment at will. At will employment means either party, employer or employee, may terminate the employment relationship at any time for any reason or for no reason at all. In other words, employees “can freely choose to accept or refuse a COVID-19 vaccine; however, if [he or] she refuses, [they] will simply need to work somewhere else.” Bridges v. Hous. Methodist Hosp., No. H-21-1774, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 110382, at *7 (S.D. Tex. June 12, 2021); see also Rhoades v. Savannah River Nuclear Sols., LLC, Civil Action No. 1:21-cv-03391-JMC, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 231844 (D.S.C. Dec. 3, 2021).
Despite the various attacks under federal and state laws, vaccine mandates have prevailed. This judicial trend suggests vaccine mandates and other related-COVID work policies are here to stay. Inevitably, the challenges will substantially dwindle as the workplace grows accustomed to this new normal.
This article is a publication of MWH Law Group LLP and is intended to provide general information regarding legal issues and developments to our clients and other friends. It should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific facts or situations. For further information on your own situation, we encourage you to contact the author of the article or any other member of the firm.
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