COVID-19 has thrown the entire world into a heightened level of uncertainty and concern that touches almost every area of life. We have questions about our health, our rights, our relationships, and our jobs. With differing opinions regarding the advent of COVID-19 vaccines, we understand that many employees want to know, Can your employer fire you for not getting vaccinated?
The answer is “yes” in many cases. We can walk you through the legal reasons and the exceptions to this answer.
First, let’s take a brief look at basic employment rules in Texas.
Basic Employment Rules in Texas
Texas is an at-will employment state. This means that unless you have specific terms in an employment contract or a specific statute to protect you, you can be fired for any reason or no reason at all. If you can find a term in your employment contract that gives you the right to refuse a vaccine without termination, you might have a chance against your employer in a civil lawsuit. Otherwise, you have to convince the courts or the government that getting fired for refusing a vaccine is against public policy. For many, successfully arguing that an employer’s vaccination rules violate public policy is unlikely.
A Recent Federal Court Ruling Allows COVID-19 Vaccine Requirements for Employment in Texas
On June 12, 2021, the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Texas decided a case called Bridges v. Houston Methodist Hospital (Bridges). In Bridges, the hospital required its employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by June 7, 2021.
Hospital employees believed they would be fired if they refused to take the vaccine, and they sued for wrongful termination. The court disagreed with the employees’ arguments that the vaccine requirements were against public policy or were a form of forced human experimentation. Instead, the court decided that the hospital had the right to require the vaccine to protect staff, guests, and patients. Under the at-will employment system, many employees whose job requirements include the COVID-19 vaccine can either comply or leave their jobs.
Options for Employees Who Object to Vaccine Requirements at Work
Can you be fired for not getting vaccinated? Yes. Can you fight a job termination based on your vaccine refusal? Sometimes. Please read below for more information.
Exceptions to Your Employer’s Right to Require Vaccines
While the Bridges case generally dismisses arguments that terminating employees who refuse vaccines is wrongful, it does identify circumstances that might give an employee a valid wrongful termination claim.
You might have a valid wrongful termination claim for refusing the vaccine if your refusal is based on:
- Sincerely held religious beliefs or
- A disability-related need.
On May 28, 2021, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) also warned that employers that offer vaccinations to their employees might improperly pressure employees to reveal their protected medical information. Be aware of this if your employer is qualified and offers to vaccinate you.
This area of employment law is complex and could change as our understanding of COVID-19 evolves. As our understanding progresses, you might ask again, Can my employer fire me for not getting vaccinated? And the answer might be “no.”
If you have questions about your rights when it comes to your employer’s vaccination rules, speak to an experienced employment attorney immediately. An attorney can determine your best course of action to protect your rights and advocate for your concerns.
Filing a Claim for Wrongful Termination
If the circumstances surrounding your firing can support a wrongful termination claim, you can file a complaint with the EEOC and the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC). If you win your case, you could receive money damages and job reinstatement. You normally have 180 days to file a complaint with either the EEOC or the TWC. When it comes to workplace disputes, this time passes quickly. It’s best to let an attorney handle these deadlines and gather the right evidence to prove your case.
Our Attorneys Are Ready to Guide You and Fight for You
So, can your employer fire you for not getting vaccinated? Don’t answer “yes” to this question without speaking to an attorney first. Even if the law doesn’t appear to be on your side, an experienced employment attorney can often see favorable arguments that you can’t.
Speak to our attorneys at The Hunnicutt Law Group. We can give you the small firm attention your case deserves while winning the big firm results you seek. We’re here to listen to, inform, guide, and protect you through the entire employment complaint process. Speak to us today for some peace of mind and a sense of direction in these times. You can contact us online or call us at (214) 361-6740 to set up an appointment.