Federal Judge Blocks NorthShore Hospital from Placing Unvaccinated Workers on Unpaid Leave

Note: This article may contain commentary or the author's opinion.

A federal judge temporarily stepped in and blocked NorthShore Hospital from putting 14 workers who have religious exemptions from getting the COVID-19 vaccine on unpaid leave.

The unnamed employees were first granted religious exemptions by the Chicago-area hospital, but were later forced to take a leave of absence or go on unpaid leave, and face termination by year’s end if they didn’t get the vaccine.

Liberty Counsel, which is representing the 14 health care workers, said in an emailed statement last week that the “plaintiffs have shared these religious beliefs, and others, with NorthShore, and have asked NorthShore for exemption and reasonable accommodation for these beliefs, but NorthShore has unlawfully and callously refused.”

On October 29th U.S. District Judge John Kness stepped in and issued a temporary restraining order against NorthShore University HealthSystem.

They can’t be fired, and they can’t be placed on what is effectively, in my mind, unpaid leave,” Kness said during a hearing on the lawsuit, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Adding; “NorthShore is going to have to keep paying them. If you wish to require them to show up to work and use personal protective equipment and go through testing because you need the help and you don’t want to pay them to be off-site, that’s up to the hospital.”

In its filing to the court Liberty Council stated that more than a week ago, “NorthShore had already started purging those employees with sincere religious objections to its ‘Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccination Policy‘” by removing a number of its employees with religious exemptions from their November work schedule. This also included staff members with religious appeals that were pending.

According to Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines, employees can ask to be exempt from getting the COVID-19 vaccine based on religious or medical grounds. However, employers don’t necessarily have to grant the exemptions under certain circumstances, the agency’s guidance states.

NorthShore had previously told The Epoch Times that it understands “that getting vaccinated may be a difficult decision for some of our team members” and values “their committed service and respects their beliefs.”

Adding; “We must prioritize the safety of our patients and team members in support of our broader mission,” the hospital system said.

In the state of Illinois, all healthcare workers including doctors, nurses, technicians and orderlies are required to be vaccinated or face weekly testing. However many Chicago-area health facilities are requiring their employees to be fully vaccinated or lose their jobs, if they refuse.

In August, NorthShore Hospital announced that all its employees would be required to be fully vaccinated by October 31st with no exceptions. The healthcare network aside from NorthShore Hospital includes Evanston, Glenbrook, Highland Park, Northwest Community, Skokie and Swedish hospitals. With approximately 17,000 healthcare employees, including 900 physicians, according to court filings.

Marc Jacobs, an attorney representing NorthShore, said Friday. “NorthShore as a health care provider … is in the best position to determine what is the best and safest course to protect its patients, employees and others in its community and the public.”

Adding; “It lawfully and in accordance with requirements from federal and state agencies and regulators decided that the best and safest course was for a vaccine mandate.”

Currently about 4% of the entire workforce within the healthcare care network have requested religious exemptions.

A majority of the exemptions were granted, including some who filed lawsuits. However, NorthShore decided that granting unvaccinated employees who work onsite religious exemptions was “unnecessarily risky.”

The next hearing is scheduled for Nov. 16th, where among other issues, the court may decide whether the 14 employees should remain anonymous.

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