Question: Can we require our employees to get flu shots?
While there is no law that prohibits employers from mandating flu shots — and in some states, the law requires all healthcare workers to get flu shots — you should carefully determine if the benefits to your business outweigh the risks. There has been a rise in litigation brought by employees who object to this requirement for medical, religious, or personal reasons. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed or joined several lawsuits over claims that inflexible mandatory vaccination policies are discriminatory.
Employees may be entitled to exemptions from a flu shot for medical reasons under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or religious reasons under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Requests for exemptions must be evaluated individually yet treated consistently, a difficult task. You will need to engage in an interactive process with the employee, just as you would for any other request for accommodations, to determine if an exemption can be granted without presenting undue hardship to your company.
The EEOC recommends against mandatory flu shot policies, instead suggesting employers encourage employees to get vaccinated on their own. Offering no-cost flu shots on-site can further improve workplace vaccination rates by making it more convenient for employees.
If you choose to enact a mandatory flu shot policy, write it carefully to protect your company from the risk of discrimination claims and be sure to run it by your legal counsel. Make sure the policy:
- Is worded concisely.
- Outlines the reasoning behind the policy.
- Is applied consistently. (Managers who enforce it should be trained on the policy and how to handle requests for exemptions.)
- Explains the process for requesting exemptions due to medical contraindications or sincerely held religious beliefs. Any medical information obtained as part of the request for an exemption should be kept confidential.
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