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Employment Law Notebook

Court Shuts Down Federal Vaccine Mandate for Healthcare Workers

A federal court in Louisiana has halted the federal government’s vaccine mandate for health care workers. The Court’s ruling applies nationally, but any healthcare workers and health care employers working in states with their own vaccine mandates (such as New Jersey) will still have to follow those state laws. 

In early November, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) had issued a Rule that required hospitals and other health care providers that accepted Medicare and Medicaid patients to require all employees to be fully vaccinated with the COVID-19 vaccine.  Under the Rule, employees were to be vaccinated or terminated unless they received their first shot by December 6 and their second shot by January 4, 2022, or they were covered by a religious or medical exemption.  A coalition of 14 states (Louisiana, Montana, Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio), sought a federal injunction to stop the Rule from being implemented from the U.S. District Court, Western District of Louisiana, Monroe Division.  Yesterday that Court granted the injunction, stating that “the public interest is served by maintaining the constitutional structure and maintaining the liberty of individuals who do not want to take the COVID-19 vaccine” and that this interest outweighs the Government’s interest.

The Court cited many reasons for its decision, including these key ones:

  • The Rule would substantially impar the ability of many hospitals to operate due to a loss of workers who declined to be vaccinated, which will have the effect of harming patient safety due to staff shortages;
  • The Federal government lacks the authority to dictate hiring and firing policies of these health care employers;
  • The CMS failed to consider or arbitrarily rejected alternatives to mandatory vaccination, such as weekly COVID-19 testing, wearing masks or shields, and/or social distancing or having exceptions for those who have had COVID who have a form of natural immunity;
  • The Executive Branch is violating the police power of the states;
  • The Rule would cutoff federal funding to health care facilities in a devastating way;
  • The Executive Branch is usurping the power of Congress to make laws; and
  • CMS rushed to implement the rule without a notice and comment period. 

The Court stated further that the geographic scope of its injunction was nationwide due to the the nationwide scope of the CMS Rule and the need to protect health care workers across the country with one exception.  The Court’s ruling does not affect health care employers and employees in the states of Alaska, Arizona, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, New Hampshire, Nebraska, Wyoming, North Dakota and South Dakota because the Eastern District of Missouri already ruled this week that the CMS Rule is enjoined in those states.

For now, the CMS Rule is enjoined but this will not be the last word on this.  Stay tuned.