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Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Appellate Court Rules on Local Government COVID Workplace Policies

The Fourth District Court of Appeals recently issued two decisions upholding workplace policies requiring COVID-19 vaccination and/or testing for public employees.  

In Graham v. Pekin Fire Department, several current and former employees asked a Sangamon County court to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) barring various public employers, Governor Pritzker, and the Illinois Department of Public Health from enforcing a workplace policy requiring all employees either to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or, alternatively, to undergo regular testing for COVID-19. The employees maintained that the vaccination and testing policy was invalid because only the IDPH has the authority to quarantine people and require them to be vaccinated or tested for contagious diseases, and that the vaccination and testing policy was discriminatory under section 5 of the Right of Conscience Act. The circuit court denied the employees' TRO petition.

After the employees appealed, the appellate court upheld the denial of the employees request for a TRO. The appellate court noted that the Illinois General Assembly recently enacted a statute that made it clear that it was not a violation of the Conscience Act for an employer to take measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The court also concluded that employers had the power to enact workplace safety rules, including the vaccination and testing requirement.

In Allen v. North Mac School District 34, a school district announced a policy in October 2021, stating that employees who did not provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination or comply with required weekly COVID-19 testing could be deemed ineligible to work and placed on a nondisciplinary administrative leave until the teacher complied with the policy, or subject to disciplinary action if a teacher failed or refused to comply. In March 2022, educators in various school districts filed an emergency motion for a TRO against numerous school districts and various state agencies and officials, including Governor Pritzker. The educators argued that (1) school districts lacked authority to require teachers to get a COVID-19 vaccination or submit to testing and (2) educators could not be compelled to take a COVID-19 vaccine or be subjected to weekly testing without first being afforded their right to due process. In April 2022, the Sangamon County circuit court ruled in favor of the educators and issued a TRO to stop enforcement of the policies.

On appeal, the appellate court vacated the TRO issued by the circuit court for several reasons. Specifically, although Section 2 of the Public Health Act affords an individual the right to due process if he or she does not consent to an order from the IDPH or a certified local health department, the court clarified that this case does not involve a situation where the IDPH or a certified local health department has ordered the educators to do anything. The appellate court also noted that the Act does not require a public school district to obtain a court order before it can place a teacher on unpaid administrative leave for refusing to get vaccinated or tested on a weekly basis. Instead, the court held that the school districts adopted lawful and reasonable workplace policies designed to protect students and school employees, and nothing in these policies restricted the educators’ activities, movement, or interactions anywhere outside of the workplace.

Post Authored by Eugene Bolotnikov, Ancel Glink


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