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Healthcare Workers in Minnesota File Lawsuit Against Employers to Block Vaccine Mandate

A lawsuit has been filed in U.S. District Court in Minnesota on behalf of 180 healthcare workers over the COVID-19 vaccine mandates of their employers. The plaintiffs, who have not been named in the lawsuit, claim vaccine mandates are a violation of religious freedom and state and federal laws. The lawsuit is one of several that challenge the legality of such mandates.

Vaccines remain the most effective way to prevent the spread of COVID-19, stop individuals becoming seriously ill, and reduce the number of hospitalizations from the illness. The vaccines are safe and are backed up by data showing they are highly effective at preventing serious illness. The majority of individuals who are hospitalized and/or die from COVID-19 are unvaccinated.

Many employers have opted to implement vaccine mandates and President Biden has announced a vaccine mandate covering 17 million healthcare workers at facilities that receive Medicare and Medicaid funding. Most hospitals have reported high levels of vaccination, with Mayo Clinic saying 98% of its physicians have been vaccinated, as have 87% of all of its workforce.

The Minnesota lawsuit names almost two dozen healthcare institutions including Mayo Clinic and University of Minnesota Physicians as defendants, as well as several federal health officials. The lawsuit alleges “Plaintiffs’ employers are placing a substantial burden on their employees not to practice their religious-based objection to the COVID-19 vaccination or live under the threat of having their religious exemption withdrawn at any time.” The lawsuit also alleges healthcare providers are forcing workers to get vaccinated to improve their vaccination numbers to get more federal subsidies.

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In addition to individuals with religious objections to the COVID-19 vaccine, plaintiffs also include workers who are pregnant, young workers who are unsure whether the risks from vaccination are worse than the risks of contracting COVID-19, as well as individuals who have already had COVID-19. The lawsuit seeks a rapid injunction from a judge ahead of the fast-approaching vaccination deadline.

Also this month, a lawsuit was filed against the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit over its vaccine mandate. Approximately 50 employees – which include doctors, nurses, and other employees – claim the vaccine mandate is unconstitutional and an infringement on an individual’s right to bodily integrity. The lawsuit alleges workers have been given the choice of exposing themselves to a potentially harmful vaccine or giving up on their careers in healthcare. A temporary restraining order was also filed against Henry Ford Health System attempting to bar the hospital system from implementing its mandate pending the outcome of the lawsuit.

Employers that have implemented a vaccine mandate have made vaccination a condition of employment and will fire workers who are not vaccinated unless there is a medical exemption. Many hospitals and other healthcare facilities are facing the prospect of staff shortages as the deadline for vaccination approaches. Workers at Henry Ford Health System who refused vaccination were required to be vaccinated by September 10 to avoid suspension and have until October 1 to be vaccinated to avoid termination.

Author: Steve Alder is the editor-in-chief of HIPAA Journal. Steve is responsible for editorial policy regarding the topics covered on HIPAA Journal. He is a specialist on healthcare industry legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA and other related legal topics. Steve has developed a deep understanding of regulatory issues surrounding the use of information technology in the healthcare industry and has written hundreds of articles on HIPAA-related topics.