Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Can employers require flu shots for their employees?

As H1N1 becomes more widespread, and as the vaccine is beginning to become available, employers are beginning to require that their employees become vaccinated. The question, however, is whether such a practice is legal. According to one New York judge, the answer is that it may not be, at least when the directive comes from the state. That judge temporarily halted a New York State directive requiring that all health care workers be vaccinated for the seasonal flu and swine flu. Yet, as Kelly Brewington at the Baltimore Sun points out, many health care facilities are mandating that all employees receive the seasonal flu and H1N1 vaccines as a condition of their employment.

According to the EEOC, employers can compel all of its employees to take the influenza vaccine, with a couple of important exceptions:

An employee may be entitled to an exemption from a mandatory vaccination requirement based on an ADA disability that prevents him from taking the influenza vaccine. This would be a reasonable accommodation barring undue hardship (significant difficulty or expense). Similarly, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, once an employer receives notice that an employee’s sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance prevents him from taking the influenza vaccine, the employer must provide a reasonable accommodation unless it would pose an undue hardship as defined by Title VII (“more than de minimis cost” to the operation of the employer’s business, which is a lower standard than under the ADA).

At least as far as the EEO laws are concerned, private employers can require flu shots as long as you are willing to accommodate employees’ disabilities and religions. The New York case raises different issues because it was state-issued mandate (which raises constitutional privacy issues), as compared to a rule specific to a private workplace.