Houston-area nurse says she was terminated for declining the COVID-19 vaccine
HOUSTON - A Houston-area woman says she was a nurse at Houston Methodist for about 10 years until this week.
"I knew that the date was looming over my head of me to get the vaccine and we were constantly being pressured and pressured," Michelle Fuentes told FOX 26.
On April 1, Houston Methodist announced it would require employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine by June 7. However, the hospital system asked employees who would not get the vaccine to submit documentation for consideration for a medical or religious exemption by May 3.
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Fuentes says she made a final effort to voice her concern to save her job at Houston Methodist before turning in her two-weeks notice.
"I just needed a little bit more time and little bit more research to be done," Fuentes stated.
She adds she wants the clinical trials to be completed before she decides to get the vaccine or not. But stresses she is not against vaccines and gets the flu vaccine every year.
A spokesperson for the hospital system says 90% of employees are vaccinated now, and only two in management have resigned so far.
Fuentes says a supervisor encouraged her to file for a religious exemption.
"And I said, 'Well, I don't have a religious exemption. I'm not doing this for religious reasons,' and she said, 'I know, but we'll help you fill it out, and at least this will save your job,'" Fuentes claims. "So, because I don't have a religious reason and it's a personal reason, my beliefs and my feelings aren't as worthy as someone who has a religious reason?"
Fuentes says when she did not agree to stay quiet about the reason for her departure, she was not allowed to complete her final two weeks and escorted out of the hospital.
In response, Houston Methodist stated they do not advise those who decline the vaccine for personal reasons to file for a religious exemption. Adding:
"We have a process in place for the employees who want to request a religious/medical exemption--- like we have had for the flu shot for more than a decade. Not all exemptions are granted."
In the meantime, Fuentes says she was prepared to wear masks at work and show lab results of COVID-19 antibodies since she'd recovered from the disease.
She adds, she regularly worked in a surgical unit, but volunteered to work in the COVID-19 unit.
"I want to be known that I was a safe nurse when I worked at the height of the pandemic and volunteered to work and did work in the COVID unit. So, I was a safe nurse then, not vaccinated, and I was able to turn back around and work in my unit without being tested and without being vaccinated," Fuentes said.
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Houston Methodist adds:
"Our employees have the choice to stay or leave—we are not forcing anyone to get a vaccine. But over everything, we must put patients first. It is our obligation as health care workers to do no harm to our patients, who are among the most vulnerable in our community."
Generally, employers are able to require employees to get vaccinated. Clayton Craighead, an employment attorney in Houston, says there are the two exemption that both deal with accomodations.
"One of them is an accomodation under the American with Disabilities Act and the second exception is an accomodation on a religious basis. In order to establish an entitlement under the ADA, the employee would have to provide some sort of documentation from a doctor explaining why he or she, could not or should not receive the vaccination due to some medical condition or disability," Craighead explained.
He adds the employer is going to be required to provide the accomodation unless the employer can demonstrate doing so would create an undue burden on the organization.
"For example in the health industry, it probably would be very difficult to allow employees to not be vaccinated," he noted.
The second accomodation requires employees to demonstrate they have sincerely held religious belief that prohibits them from getting the vaccine.
"An employer, in order to avoid providing that accommodation of religion, has to also demonstrate undue burden but the standard is actually lower for religious accomodation than it is under the American with Disabilities Act," Craighead added.