A federal judge denied a request by several employees at the largest hospital system in Massachusetts for an injunction to block the company from placing them on unpaid leave for violating the system’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
But the judge on Oct. 20 did not rule on the issue of whether the workers at Mass General Brigham were the victims of discrimination for being denied medical or religious vaccination exemptions.
“This is a tentative decision based on an incomplete factual record and legal analysis,” U.S. District Court Judge Dennis Saylor said. Another hearing was tentatively scheduled for Nov. 2.
The vaccine mandate is in the interest of pubic safety, he said.
“It is an emergency situation. Mass General Brigham is a major health care provider in a major metropolitan area with a very strong interest, as I said, in providing the safest possible facility as well as creating a public perception of safety,” he said.
Employees at Mass General Brigham, which with 80,000 workers is the state’s largest private employer, had until Oct. 20 to show they had received at least one shot or be placed on unpaid leave. Those who have not received their first shot by Nov. 5 face termination.
Eight employees filed the federal lawsuit on Oct. 17, saying disability and religious exemptions had been wrongly denied without explanation. The suit does not question the legality of the vaccine mandate.
More than 98 percent of the system’s workers are vaccinated, Mass General Brigham has said.
Kiley Belliveau, a lawyer for the hospital system, said in court that the review process for people seeking medical and religious exemptions was “thorough, thoughtful, and robust” and employees have the freedom to work elsewhere.