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Can Businesses Require Employees To Get Flu Shots?

As the weather turns cooler and the leaves begin to change, our thoughts turn to pumpkin pie, hay rides, apple picking, and….flu season.

Yes, it’s that time of year again. Time for the annual pilgrimage to your doctor or local pharmacy for a vaccination against the flu virus. But what if, not only do you plan to be vaccinated yourself, you intend to require your employees to get the shot as well? Does the law allow that?

The answer is a qualified yes. Generally, employers can mandate that employees receive the flu shot, but they must accommodate employees who opt out based on sincerely held religious beliefs, unless such accommodation would pose an undue hardship for the employer. Accommodation of religious belief is a requirement of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Thus, in the absence of undue hardship, an employee whose religion prohibits vaccines must be excused from a flu shot requirement. Employers are well advised to take religious accommodation seriously, especially given a recent uptick in EEOC cases alleging that employers have violated Title VII by failing to accommodate religious opposition to the flu shot.

That being said, if an employee objects to the vaccine based on grounds other than a sincerely held religious belief, such an objection need not be accommodated. For example, if an employee simply believes that vaccines are harmful (such as those who claim a link between autism and childhood vaccines) , the employer is not obligated to excuse that employee from a company-wide vaccine requirement.

The desire by some employers to make the flu vaccine mandatory for staff is understandable. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. businesses lose approximately $7 billion a year in sick days and lost productivity each year due to employees’ contracting the flu.

Nevertheless, any employer considering implementing a mandatory flu shot policy should consider it carefully. Would an incentive program yield similar results without running the risk of a discrimination charge? Rather than requiring flu shots, would making them more accessible increase the rate of vaccination among your employees? For example, employers might consider enlisting the services of a mobile flu shot clinic to provide vaccinations on the employer’s premises.

If you have questions about employee flu shot policies, do not wait to reach out to one of our human resources professionals. Flu season is around the bend.

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