Louisiana Supreme Court Holds that Unvaccinated At-Will Employees May Be Discharged
The Supreme Court of Louisiana has issued a duo of related rulings finding that private employers may be permitted to terminate at-will employees within the state for failing to comply with a vaccination mandate. According to the court, it finds “no exception to [Louisiana’s] at-will employment doctrine” for vaccination mandates.
In this case, the defendant, a health care system, instituted a vaccine mandate informing employees that they would have an approximately two-month period in which to become fully vaccinated or else they could become subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination of the employment relationship.
In response to this mandate, approximately 75 employees between two of the employer’s operating areas filed separate lawsuits disputing the hospital system’s right to dismiss them as at-will employees which were blocked by both the Louisiana Medical Consent Law, which protects an individual’s right to refuse medical treatment as well as Louisiana’s State Constitution which guarantees an individual’s right to privacy.
However, the Louisiana Supreme Court rejected both of these arguments. First of all, the court found that the Louisiana Medical Consent Law pertain solely to the relationship between a provider and a patient, not the relationship between a worker and an employer. As for the claims under Louisiana’s Constitution, the court found that the right only pertains to the government, not private employers.
Notably, this ruling does not seem to impact the right of an employee to seek an exemption under federal or state anti-discrimination laws or to seek relief for violations of these laws. It does, however, continue to reinforce that an employer is free to institute and enforce a vaccine mandate.
It is also notable in the wake of these decisions that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ vaccine mandate has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. That means that for a large number of medical providers, workers must become vaccinated or qualify for a religious or medical exemption, or the employer may not qualify to receive funds from these programs.
COVID-19 has presented many uncertainties for employers. However, this case does indicate that terminating employees for failure to comply with a vaccine mandate under justifiable conditions may not be one of them. It is important, however, to ensure that all requests for exemptions are considered appropriately and to continue to monitor for future updates to vaccine-related legislation on both a state and federal level.
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