On Tuesday, October 19, the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals denied unvaccinated healthcare workers’ request for an injunction to delay Maine’s healthcare provider vaccine mandate. On the same day, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the same request. The Supreme Court left the door open for the workers to file a new application for an injunction, which they have already done. A decision is expected from the Supreme Court next week.
This case is moving at a breakneck pace by legal standards, and it remains quite possible the Supreme Court will issue a ruling before the state’s vaccination deadline date of October 29, 2021. While this is fascinating stuff for lawyers, where does it leave affected healthcare providers and their employees?
Right now, Maine’s healthcare provider vaccine mandate remains in effect, and the only available exemption under the state statute and implementing rule is medical. No religious exemption is available under the terms of the rule, and to date the federal courts have upheld this position.
For employers that are concerned about liability to terminated employees who claim they were denied a religious accommodation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the best defense seems to be twofold: (1) The healthcare provider is following a state mandate that has been upheld in the federal courts and (2) granting a religious exemption may create an undue hardship. This is tricky stuff, so conferring with counsel is recommended.
For those of you not subject to the rule but who have implemented or are considering vaccine mandates, the case is supportive of a vaccine mandate and identifies a compelling government interest in mandatory vaccines.