Employers can play a vital role in ending the pandemic once and for all – if they take the initiative. In June, a federal court in Texas dismissed a suit brought by employees challenging the right of their employer, a hospital, to require vaccination against COVID-19 as a condition of continued employment. The judge held that no federal law protected the employees, who cited no valid medical necessity or religious justification for their refusal.
In the same week that the Texas decision was rendered, both the University of Maryland System and Johns Hopkins announced vaccination mandates for their employees. We applaud their leadership in showing how employers can do their part to eradicate COVID-19 in the workplace.
Employers in Maryland are on solid legal ground to require their employees to be vaccinated, and they should rush do so – the sooner, the better. The recent surge in infections and deaths among the unvaccinated demonstrates that unvaccinated people pose a direct threat to the workplace and to the community. They are the primary reason why the pandemic continues to rage in our country.
Not only are unvaccinated workers at much greater risk of contracting, spreading and dying from severe COVID-19 infections, but they also provide opportunities for the virus to mutate into variants which may prove to be resistant to vaccines. Some employers already mandate that employees get a yearly flu vaccine, especially in the health care and education fields, so vaccination mandates are hardly a new development.
Despite all this, many Maryland employers are still afraid to institute COVID-19 vaccination mandates. Some employers fear that such a mandate will cause them to lose workers during an acute labor shortage. That concern could be eased if all Maryland employers followed the lead of the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins, so that employees refusing to be vaccinated would have less of a chance to be re-employed elsewhere.
In addition, the State Department of Labor could support Maryland employers by amending the unemployment insurance regulations to make a termination due to the employee’s refusal to be vaccinated for COVID-19 a disqualifying factor, barring such employees from collecting unemployment benefits.
Some employers are reticent to require vaccination because they or their employees are laboring under the belief that the vaccines are “experimental” due to the lack of final FDA approval of them. But perhaps no other medical treatment in history has been tested on more people — hundreds of millions — to prove conclusively both its safety and efficacy. In June, 100% of the deaths from COVID-19 reported in Maryland were of unvaccinated people, a powerful fact that in and of itself should lay to rest any argument regarding the efficacy of the vaccines and their relative risk to employees.
Even disregarding the overwhelming scientific evidence that the vaccines are safe, it is worth noting that employers have the power to compel their employees to do many things that are potentially unsafe. Mandating vaccination is certainly less inherently dangerous than, for example, requiring employees to operate motor vehicles or heavy machinery. Almost nothing an employer could order could potentially compromise the health of employees more than requiring them to care for patients infected with COVID-19 prior to the availability of vaccines, yet that was perfectly lawful. To be sure, mandating that employees be vaccinated is considerably less potentially dangerous to the health of unvaccinated employees than simply ordering them to report to work, where they likely could encounter an infected person.
If we are to eradicate the pandemic anytime soon, we must support vaccination mandates in the workplace.
Editorial Advisory Board members Ericka King and Deb Schubert did not participate in this opinion.
EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD MEMBERS
James B. Astrachan, Chair
James K. Archibald
Andre M. Davis
Arthur F. Fergenson
Julie C. Janofsky
Ericka N. King
C. William Michaels
Angela W. Russell
Debra G. Schubert
H. Mark Stichel
The Daily Record Editorial Advisory Board is composed of members of the legal profession who serve voluntarily and are independent of The Daily Record. Through their ongoing exchange of views, members of the board attempt to develop consensus on issues of importance to the bench, bar and public. When their minds meet, unsigned opinions will result. When they differ, or if a conflict exists, majority views and the names of members who do not participate will appear. Members of the community are invited to contribute letters to the editor and/or columns about opinions expressed by the Editorial Advisory Board.