In two related cases, the Supreme Court of Louisiana ruled in Hayes v. University Health Shreveport, LLC, and Nelson v. Ochsner Lafayette General that private employers may mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for their employees.
The employer, a health care system, informed its employees in August 2021 that they had two months to get fully vaccinated. Otherwise, they could face disciplinary actions, including mandatory use of leave time and eventually termination. Two separate lawsuits were filed by approximately 75 employees from the Lafayette and Shreveport regions. They argued that the Louisiana Medical Consent Law, La, limited employers' power to fire them as at-will employees and that the Louisiana Medical Consent Law, La, R.S. R.S. 40:1159.1, et seq., which govern the right of an adult not to receive medical treatment & Louisiana Constitution art. I, SS. 5, which provides the right to privacy.
Chief Justice John Weimer found "no exception to [Louisiana's] at-will employment doctrine." as written in the unanimous decision written by him. "[T]his court finds Employer is entitled to terminate Employees for failure to comply with the vaccine mandate,"
The Supreme Court of Louisiana rejected both arguments. The court held that the Louisiana Medical Consent Law only applies to the relationship between a health care provider and a patient. It does not apply to an employment relationship between an employer and an employee. Regarding the employees' right to privacy claim under La. Const. art. Art. I, SS 5, the supreme court held that it applies only to governmental actors and not to private employers.
The Supreme Court of Louisiana's holding does not seem to affect an employee's right to request exemption from the mandate under federal or state anti-discrimination legislation or assert a claim for violation of these laws in connection to required vaccination.
The decisions were made the same day as the US Supreme Court heard oral argument about the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), which was later withdrawn and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services vaccination mandate. This mandate requires certain health care workers to get full COVID-19 vaccines unless they are granted a religious or medical exemption.
Louisiana employers who want to manage COVID-19 risk in their workplaces should be aware of many uncertainties. However, Louisiana law does not allow for the possibility of wrongful termination for vaccination mandates. Therefore, Louisiana employers who require vaccination should monitor and manage their risk under the Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.