SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – The deadline has arrived for all Ochsner Health employees to be vaccinated, but an appeals court ruling issued Thursday protects a group of health care workers in North Louisiana who are challenging the mandate from being disciplined or fired.

The health system announced the mandate in August, requiring employees and health care workers to be vaccinated by Friday, October 29, as a condition of employment.

Thirty-nine Ochsner LSU Health employees in Caddo Parish and nine in Ouachita Parish filed suit in early October, claiming Louisiana’s constitution and laws guarantee citizens a right to decide their medical treatments. They also claim COVID-19 vaccines do not prevent disease transmission.

District courts in both parishes denied their requests to issue a restraining order to block the hospital from taking action against the employees.

But on Thursday, the Second Circuit Court of Appeal ruling Thursday reversed those rulings and instructed the district judges in those courts to grant the temporary restraining orders and to hold hearings on the lawsuits.

“This ruling applies not only to the Ochsner Shreveport plaintiffs in the case, but it has broader implications for all hospitals statewide who are imposing vaccine mandates,” plaintiffs’ attorney Jimmy Faircloth said in a statement. “The anti-reprisal statute prohibits employers from taking action against employees for refusing to participate in an unlawful activity. It provides for damages and attorney fees against an offending employer. The Second Circuit just informed employers that this action is very likely unlawful.”

As of October 6, Ochsner Health said more than 85% of their 32,000 employees in Louisiana and Mississippi were fully vaccinated, and 90% had received their first dose. KTAL/KMSS has reached out to hospital officials for updated vaccination rates and comment on the appeals court ruling and is waiting for a response.