COVID vaccine

Can Your Employer Require a Coronavirus Vaccine?

A Chicago attorney points to a recent case in Houston where an employee sued a hospital system over required vaccinations.

NBC Universal, Inc.

As coronavirus cases are once again on the rise fueled by the highly transmissible delta variant, more Chicago companies are mandating vaccinations and masks.

Some employees and customers are pushing back against the rules, citing their freedom of choice, but Chicago attorney Tom Glasgow said the legal system is not on their side, at least not so far.

"You’re an employee at will," said Glasgow, of Glasgow & Olsson. "They can mandate anything for you as a private employer."

Glasgow pointed to a case in Houston, where more than 150 healthcare employees who refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine were fired or resigned after a judge dismissed a lawsuit, filed by an employee, over the vaccination requirement.

The judge said that if the employees didn’t like the requirement, they could go work elsewhere.

"The court summarily dismissed it basing it in large part on the long history we have had of being able to mandate specific vaccines, Mumps, Measles, Rubella, etcetera, going all the way back to 1905, when we first mandated the small pox vaccine," said Glasgow.

"If you don’t have a contract, or you’re not part of a collective bargaining unit, they can mandate whatever they see fit for the health, safety and welfare of other employees," he said.

Last week, Google, Facebook and Lyft said in separate statements that employees returning to offices need to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Walmart said all employees at its headquarters, and managers who travel within the U.S., must be vaccinated by early October.

In Chicago, many private establishments are also choosing to implement pandemic policies. Ingmar James Salon in Lakeview said there will be no service without proof of vaccine or a mask. Patrons must be inoculated to see a live show at the Golden Dagger in Lincoln Park, and signs clearly state proof of vaccine is necessary to enter Replay, an arcade bar, in Lakeview and Andersonville.

"We're just doing our part to ensure the safety of our staff and the artist community we host at our venue," said Donnie Biggins, the owner of Golden Dagger.

Mark Liberson, the owner of Replay, said it comes down to science.

"The science is showing people who are vaccinated are very unlikely to get infected with the virus," he said. "Those who do get infected have very mild illnesses."

"At this point, we feel safer if we have an environment that is exclusive to people who have taken the time to protect themselves, to protect others by getting vaccinated," said Liberson.

Glasgow expects even more companies to soon follow suit.

"I think what ultimately is going to happen, is you are going to have the right to not have a vaccine, but they are going to make it exponentially difficult to run your daily life without it," said Glasgow.

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