Employer Vaccinate-or-Test Policies Not Protected by the HCRCA

In Krewionek v. McKnight, an Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit brought under the Health Care Right of Conscience Act (“Act”), denying recovery to two former employees who were terminated after they refused to get vaccinated for COVID-19.

In August 2021, two employees at a dental implant and surgical office were terminated after they refused to comply with their employer’s policy that required all employees to get vaccinated for COVID-19. The former employees sued their employer, alleging that the employer violated Section 5 of the Act, which prohibits discrimination “because of a person’s conscientious refusal to receive, obtain, accept, perform … or participate in … health care services contrary to his or her conscience.”

While the lawsuit was pending, the legislature amended the Act by carving out an exception for COVID-19 related policies. The amended language, which applies to all actions commenced or pending on or after its effective date, provides, in pertinent part:

“It is not a violation of this Act for any … employer, to take any measures or impose any requirements, including, but not limited to, any measures or requirements that involve provision of services by a physician or health care personnel, intended to prevent contraction or transmission of COVID-19… It is not a violation of this Act to enforce such measures or requirements.”

The court rejected the former employees’ contention that the phrase, “intended to prevent contraction or transmission of COVID-19,” meant that the event must be rendered impossible. In contrast, the court noted that the term “prevent” merely means to “hinder or interpose an obstacle, to the contraction and transmission of COVID-19,” and that a vaccination does just that. As such, the court agreed that the Act, as amended, clearly permits an employer to enforce COVID-19 mitigation measures intended to prevent contraction or transmission of COVID-19. Therefore, the amendment to the Act defeated the former employees’ claim.

Although this case is narrow in scope in that it only applies to specific claims brought under the Act, it illustrates that an employer may adopt work policies or requirements intended to hinder the contraction and/or transmission of COVID-19, including potentially discharging employees for failing to abide by the same, without fear of violating the Act.

Source: Krewionek v. McKnight, 2022 IL App (2d) 220078