The hospital system is temporarily blocked so that workers with religious exemptions to the vaccination mandate are not given unpaid leave.

A federal judge in Chicago has temporarily blocked a hospital system from placing workers who were granted religious exemptions for receiving the COVID-19 vaccine on leave without pay.

Fourteen Chicago-area hospital system employees filed a lawsuit against the hospital system last month, alleging it discriminated against them by making them decide between their religious beliefs and keeping their jobs.

The employees, who were named as Jane Does in the lawsuit, received the exemptions from the hospital system, but were later told they would be forced to take leave because it was “unnecessarily risky” to have unvaccinated people on the premises. according to The Chicago Tribune.

That arrangement would make them use whatever paid time off they have left before facing termination before the end of the year if they maintain their opposition to the vaccine. The deadline to get vaccinated was Sunday.

The plaintiffs hope to achieve class action status for the lawsuit.

Federal District Judge John Kness issued a temporary restraining order against the hospital system on Friday, the Tribune reported.

“They cannot be fired and they cannot be placed on what is effectively, in my opinion, unpaid leave,” Kness said in his ruling, according to the Tribune.

“The hospital is going to have to keep paying them. If you want to require them to report to work, wear personal protective equipment and undergo tests because you need the help and you don’t want to pay them to be off-site, that depends on the hospital, ”he added.

However, Kness did not weigh in on whether the lawsuit will receive class action status.

When contacted for comment, NorthShore told The Hill that it cannot comment on pending litigation. However, he provided a statement that in part underscored the importance of vaccination, citing “unique challenges” presented by COVID-19.

“We also understand that getting vaccinated can be a difficult decision for some of our team members. We value your committed service and respect your beliefs. However, COVID-19 has presented unique challenges that continue to threaten our communities and therefore we must prioritize the safety of our patients and team members in support of our broader mission, ”the hospital system wrote.

“As healthcare workers, we are entrusted to provide the safest and most effective patient care possible,” he added.

Horatio Mihet, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, told the Tribune that unvaccinated employees should be able to continue working while wearing personal protective equipment and getting tested weekly. He said that forcing them to get vaccinated would damage their career and would be a violation of their religious views.

“When you condition someone’s livelihood on a choice or decision they have to make, that’s the definition of coercion,” Mihet told the newspaper.

The Hill reached out to Liberty Counsel, a Christian ministry that promotes religious rights and that filed the lawsuit on behalf of the employees, for comment.

The plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit include nurses, a pharmacy technician and a senior applications analyst. For some of them, their opposition is based on disapproval of the link between vaccines and aborted fetuses.

While all three vaccines licensed in the US do not have fetal cells, cell lines from two abortions performed in the last century were used to test and develop the injections.

The hospital system announced in August that it would require all of its employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of October, according to the Tribune. The majority of the approximately 700 waiver requests were reportedly granted.

NorthShore told The Hill that the “vast majority” of the 17,000 members of its team are vaccinated.

The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois last month.

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