Valley hospitals are not currently requiring staff to be vaccinated

Updated: Jun. 18, 2021 at 5:04 PM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - Health care workers across the U.S. are pushing back after hospitals in several states have required that employees be vaccinated, in order to work.

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit in Texas Saturday, saying employees can freely choose to accept or refuse a vaccine, but if refused, they will need to find work elsewhere.

No hospitals in the Valley are requiring staff to be vaccinated, but a legal expert says they could if they wanted to.

“A hospital, just like any employer, they are allowed to impose any rules that they want. They just can’t violate a law in doing so,” Charles Henter, an Adjunct Professor of Law at George Mason University School of Law and attorney at Henter Law PLC, said.

There are two main federal anti-discrimination laws in place that would allow an employee to be exempt from the rules.

“If someone has a religious objection that’s based on a sincere religious belief to getting a vaccination, then they would have to make an exception for those employees under Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” Henter explained.

Henter says this law only protects religious beliefs. It can’t be political, secular or philosophical. And he says if the challenge becomes a court case, the court will inquire as to how sincere the belief is.

“People often think it can be easy to fake a sincere religious belief. I would simply say that it is not,” Henter said.

Employers must also make exceptions for people who have a disability or health condition that keeps them from getting vaccinated in compliance with the Americans with Disability Act and the Rehabilitation Act.

If someone falls under one of these categories, the employer would need to make a reasonable accommodation for that person that would allow them to work without getting a vaccine.

“That accommodation is a broad term. It doesn’t have to mean you get to physically walk in to the exact same workplace and everything else. That accommodation might be, fine, you don’t have to get vaccinated, but you’ll have to be masked and maybe, if it’s possible, you might be able to work remotely,” Henter said.

While hospitals can require most employees to be vaccinated, Valley hospitals do not have a vaccine mandate in place.

Augusta Health Statement:

“Currently, Augusta Health does not require the COVID-19 vaccination for employees. To promote the safety of our patients and team members, and the families of our team, our efforts encourage staff to voluntarily vaccinate unless advised by their primary care physician of a contraindication.

Our vaccination rate is greater than 70%, and we continue to vaccinate employees each week. We will review our COVID-19 vaccination policy as full FDA approvals are considered. We have learned much about the COVID-19 virus and vaccinations. We’ve learned that the vaccines not only help protect you against getting sick, but they also help mitigate the spread of the virus. It’s proving to be the best resource to help protect us, those we love and those we serve. Augusta Health is committed to professional safety and personal well-being.”

Sentara RMH Statement:

“Consistent with CDC & ACIP recommendations, Sentara Healthcare is offering the vaccine to all team members and healthcare workers in our community. Currently, receiving the vaccine is voluntary/optional for all Sentara employees. However, receiving a COVID-19 vaccine is an important tool to help stop this global pandemic. Team members are encouraged to review education materials and to speak with our clinical leaders if they have any questions or concerns to determine if the vaccine is right for them. As things change, Sentara will continue to evaluate its decision and keep a close watch on guidance and directions from governing bodies.”

Valley Health Statement:

“We are encouraging 100% of our staff to be vaccinated and are watching state and national discussions closely as we weigh our options and make important patient safety decisions.”

Henter says if you have a sincere religious belief or a health condition or disability, it’s important to bring that up to your employer and stand up for your rights.

“The law works here when everyone works in good faith together and acts reasonably, and I think that’s how everyone needs to approach this issue,” Henter said.

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