Lawmaker questions legality of MUSC employees fired for not getting COVID-19 vaccine

Source: Live 5
Published: Jul. 15, 2021 at 3:34 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 15, 2021 at 7:28 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A Charleston County lawmaker has asked Gov. Henry McMaster and Attorney General Alan Wilson to weigh in on the firing of five employees with the Medical University of South Carolina. MUSC officials confirmed on Wednesday they were terminated from their jobs for not getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

Representative Joe Bustos questioned the legality of those firings on Thursday.

“We are trying to get people back to work, and here the medical university is letting them go,” Bustos said. “I just think it’s the wrong move at this time.”

Bustos believes some newer regulations protecting students and others from being discriminated against for not wearing a mask or not getting a vaccine should apply in this situation as well.

“These are decisions that have to be made by the individuals themselves,” Bustos said. “If a condition of employment to be hired…the company or institution says we want you to have the vaccine, ok, I can understand that. People can say, ’I want to work here and if this is a condition of employment then I’ll get the vaccine.’ But if they’re already an employee, I don’t think that’s correct.”

MUSC Health employees had until June 30 to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to an MUSC policy released in April. MUSC officials said the terminations were a last resort for noncompliance.

It’s still unclear when those employees were hired and in what roles they worked. MUSC officials have not provided any information at this time.

Meanwhile, representatives with the attorney general’s office said they had no comment on the matter.

“We’re going to have to nail down if employees are absolutely covered by the ordinances or statutes that we passed,” Bustos said.

He plans to pre-file legislation to address this issue if it is not covered by an existing law. He wants to close what he believes may be a loophole.

“I just really feel strongly about this. I think if they were going to require that, they should have thought about it before instead of coming to the end of the pandemic,” Bustos said. “At some point, enough is enough.”

Officials with the South Carolina Hospital Association released the following statement:

SCHA believes that South Carolina’s hospitals and health systems should have the flexibility to make their own decisions about how they want to implement vaccine policy within their organizations. Hospitals have an important responsibility to create the safest possible environment for the patients and communities they serve. They take this obligation seriously and have years of experience with other vaccines, balancing this duty against the need to respect the values and beliefs of individual staff members. As the organizations most directly impacted by a surge in COVID-19 patients, hospitals should have the authority to use every tool available to protect their facilities and our communities from this deadly virus. These vaccines have proven to be an effective tool in reducing the spread and severity of COVID-19 and South Carolina’s hospitals and health systems are taking every measure to enhance safety for everyone who enters their facilities.

Officials with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control also released this statement:

As background, DHEC does not provide guidance concerning requiring COVID-19 vaccinations. Decisions about individual requirements are best determined by employers. DHEC does encourage COVID-19 vaccinations for all eligible residents. These vaccines are safe, effective and are the number one way for South Carolina and the rest of the nation to end this pandemic once and for all.

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