Inova Health Systems is violating Virginia law by denying “multiple employee requests” for religious and disability exemptions from the firm’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, state attorney general Jason S. Miyares said in a letter Friday.
He said his office is reviewing complaints made by Inova employees who were turned down for such exemptions. Inova announced the mandate in July 2021.
Citing “information from multiple sources” that exemption requests are being denied, Mr. Miyares told Inova CEO Stephen Jones that the rejections “are resulting in terminations and threatened terminations of critical healthcare professionals” in the state.
“These denials appear to be based on an incorrect judgment of the sincerely held religious beliefs of individuals, a breakdown in the interactive process, and an outright failure to accommodate reasonable requests and required by law,” Mr. Miyares wrote.
He said the state’s Human Rights Act “prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of religion and disability,” explaining that “religion” includes “any outward expression of religious faith.”
Kristen Barnett, 38, was an RN unit supervisor in the pediatric intensive care unit at Inova Fairfax Hospital, one of four supervisors in a staff of 90. She said she was terminated on July 5 after being turned down for a religious exemption.
“The Bible says if you feel that something is sinful, and you submit to it, it is a sin and God sees it as a sin,” Ms. Barnett, of Aldie, Virginia, said in a telephone interview. “So me getting this shot, I feel is sinful. I don’t feel like I could live with the conviction of doing that.”
She said, “All I wanted was to be able to be there and do my job, and support the staff and help take care of pediatric patients; I love my job.”
Ms. Barnett said she would “probably” work part-time, adding, “I don’t know if I could work for [Inova] after what they’ve done to everybody. They call themselves an inclusive organization, but they’re not inclusive if you are a Christian.”
Late Friday, an Inova Health System spokesperson stated that the firm “strongly believe[s] that the safest environment for our team members and patients is one where everyone is fully vaccinated. Like Inova’s longstanding requirement that all team members get an annual flu shot, compliance with our immunization policy is a condition of employment.”
Inova said its review process “is consistent with the law,” and fewer than 1.2% of its 20,000 employees have “separated from the organization due to non-compliance” with the COVID jab mandate.