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Houston Methodist reverses course on COVID vaccine employee mandate

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(The Center Square) – Years after being sued and as a new state law will soon go into effect, the first hospital in the country to impose a COVID-19 vaccine mandate as a condition of employment has reversed course.

Methodist Hospital announced it was implementing a new employment policy beginning Dec. 1 to comply with a new Texas law.

The Texas legislature passed a ban on private employers imposing COVID-19 vaccine mandates as a condition of employment during the third special legislative session this year. Gov. Greg Abbott signed it into law earlier this month. The new law goes into effect Feb. 6, 2024.

It bans private employers from adopting or enforcing a COVID-19 mandate “requiring an employee, contractor, applicant for employment, or applicant for a contract position to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of employment or a contract position.”

It also authorizes employees to file complaints about alleged employer violations with the Texas Workforce Commission and imposes a $50,000 fine per violation. It also stipulates that the attorney general may sue violators and provide injunctive relief against them.

“It’s long past time to put COVID behind us and restore individual freedom to all Texans,” Abbott said at the bill signing.

Many nurses and medical professionals lost their jobs because of private employer mandates, including at Houston Methodist, which was the first hospital in the country to impose a COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Roughly 200 employees who were fired for refusing to get the vaccine sued, arguing the requirement violated federal law and the U.S. Constitution. Houston-based attorney Jared Woodfill, who sued Methodist, argued frontline medical professionals who worked during the COVID outbreak were considered heroes. But within a year, they either lost their jobs or faced losing their jobs because they refused to take an experimental drug only approved through Emergency Use Authorization.

“Many of my clients actually contracted COVID as a result of treating COVID-positive patients, and the thank you that Methodist Hospital gave them,” he told The Center Square, was “a pink slip.”

Within two years, many Texas hospitals and medical facilities were facing shortages because of COVID vaccine employee mandates.

Now, Methodist has reversed course, issuing a new policy, obtained by The Center Square. It states: “The Texas legislature passed a law in the special session that prohibits private employers from requiring employees and contractors to get a COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment. Houston Methodist has always put the safety of our patients and employees first. We will continue to encourage everyone to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, but it will no longer be mandated at Houston Methodist.”

Stefanie Asin, Houston Methodist Director of Communications, Public Relations and Creative Services, told The Center Square, “It is true that we are following state law, as we always do.” When asked to provide a link to the new policy or point to policies on the website, she replied, “We don’t share our policies. We are following the guidelines included in the new state law.”

Methodist’s COVID-19 employee policies are linked to on its website, as are its “How to Develop a COVID-19 employee vaccination policy” and “Guidelines for Employee COVID-19 Testing.”

When asked if Methodist would rehire the hundreds of professionals it fired for not complying with its vaccine mandate policy, or whose exemptions the hospital rejected, if they were to reapply, Asin did not immediately respond.

Of Methodist’s policy reversal, Woodfill told The Center Square, “Years after forever damaging the lives of hundreds of its employees by forcing them to choose between their jobs and an experimental COVID-19 shot, Methodist is finally being held accountable through recent legislation making their actions illegal.

“Methodist owes an apology and more to the individuals who sacrificed their lives during the height of the pandemic only to later be told that they would be fired if they refused to serve as human Guinee pigs.

“Unfortunately, it took the legislature way too long to catch up with our lawsuits. When will Methodist’s CEO send out a press-release apologizing to those who were evicted from their homes, had their cars repossessed or lost their life savings because they refused to take an experimental COVID-19 shot?”

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