More than 70 Geisinger Health System employees filed a class-action suit against Danville-based Geisinger Medical Center and its affiliated hospitals and clinics, claiming its COVID-19 testing requirements for employees exempt from getting the vaccine force them to choose between their religion and their jobs.
Geisinger issued a vaccine mandate for all its employees in August. It require employees seeking a religious or medical exemption to do so by Sept. 10.
In a suit filed in U.S. Middle District Court Monday, the employees claim Geisinger did not warned them that by applying for a religious exemption, they would be required to be tested for the virus twice a week beginning Nov. 9, or face dismissal. They are asking the court for an injunction to halt the requirement so they can keep their jobs as the case moves forward.
Geisinger officials were not immediately available for comment. In a statement to PennLive, Geisinger said that its mandatory vaccine policy has already led to a 50% decline in the number of Geisinger employees testing positive and those out on quarantine.
“As a private employer, our mandatory vaccine policy and the process associated with it complies with the law, and similar policies have been upheld in state and federal courts,” the system wrote in its statement.
According to Geisinger’s mandate, employees exempt from the vaccine were required to be tested for COVID-19 on Nov. 9, 11 and 16. After that, tests are required twice a week. Failure to comply would result in dismissal.
The suit maintains that Geisinger is enforcing the mandate regardless of the religious views of its employees, calling the mandate a violation of their first amendment right to free exercise of religion.
The mandate effects all Geisinger employees, regardless of if they work in medical facilities or work from home. Geisinger’s rulemaking also has no support from any official mandate from the federal or state government, according to the suit.
The employees claim that Geisinger never told them that, despite the exemption, they would have to tested for COVID twice a week, wear a mask and be quarantined for longer periods of time than vaccinated coworkers. The suit says the PCR and Antigen tests required by Geisinger contain ethylene oxide, a carcinogen, which the plaintiffs must place inside their body through a nasal swab.
The suit accuses Geisinger of religious discrimination, civil rights conspiracy, violation of the equal protection clause, retaliation and violating the employees’ right to privacy and medical freedom.
The plaintiffs, represented by Williamsport-based attorney Gregory Stapp of Stapp Law, argue that Geisinger is retaliating against them because of their religious beliefs that keep them from getting the vaccine or being tested.
Several federal offices have issued rulemaking on vaccinations in the workplace including the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and The Centers for Medicare and Medicard Services (CMS).
On Nov. 4, OSHA announced a new emergency temporary standard. As part of the standard, covered employers must develop, implement and enforce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy, unless they adopt a policy requiring employees to choose between vaccination or undergoing regular testing and wearing a face covering at work.
The standard impacts two-thirds of the country’s private-sector workforce.
CMS issued its own interim final rule on Nov. 8, requiring most Medicare- and Medicaid-certified providers and suppliers to vaccinate staff within 60 days. However, staff who exclusively provide telehealth or telemedicine services outside of the hospital and do not have direct contact with patients or staff, are not part of the rule.