Understand Your Rights To Religious And Medical Exemptions Under A Flu or COVID Vaccine Policy
Flu season normally causes worry for most adults, especially those in the healthcare industry. However, flu season during a global pandemic causes even more concern.
COVID-19 symptoms can mimic flu symptoms. As a result, people do not know if you have the flu or Coronavirus. Anyone with the flu must still quarantine for two weeks unless tested and negative for Coronavirus. Even then, they insist sufferers are fever-free for at least 24 hours before returning to work.
Now, the new COVID vaccine is available. Currently, it is only available to front line workers in medical facilities. However, soon, it will be offered to everyone.
Employers may consider mandating flu shots to avoid these issues and other health concerns related to the flu and COVID. What are your rights regarding mandatory vaccines? Can you refuse them? Can your boss fire you over your refusal?
Since the flu shot is widely available, it is best to understand your rights regarding it first.
Can Your Boss Make You Get a Flu Shot?
The law is clear. A flu vaccine policy can only mandate the flu vaccine if it serves a business necessity and is job-related.
In other words, a company can mandate a vaccine if it has a clear business reason. Hospitals, medical care facilities, nursing home facilities, or medical supply companies may have a legitimate business purpose to mandate a flu shot.
However, other companies requiring close contact, like retail businesses, delivery services, and more, may also have a clear business reason to mandate a flu vaccine.
The Occupational Health and Safety Organization (OSHA) tells employers to educate their employees about the flu shot’s benefits. It does not mandate employers enforce a mandatory flu shot policy.
Can Employees Refuse the Flu Shot?
Even when employers mandate flu vaccines, employees may have the right to refuse. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protect employees’ rights to refuse the shot for medical and religious reasons.
The ADA protects people with a covered disability from negative employment actions based on medical needs. Any employee with a believed medical reason can refuse the flu shot.
Many employees have conditions that cause a negative reaction to the flu shot. People with cancer, pregnant women, and those with immune-deficiency issues may be medically exempt from the influenza vaccination.
Title VII provides a religious exemption to the mandatory flu vaccine. An employee may refuse the flu shot for a deeply held religious belief. For instance, a practicing vegan can refuse the flu shot because it is made from eggs.
Employers cannot retaliate against an employee claiming an ADA or Title VII exemption for the vaccine. Firing an employee or laying them off for the season may be a wrongful termination.
How Can Employers Accommodate Employees with Flu Shot Exemptions?
Exemptions do not mean employees must go completely unprotected. Instead, you have a right to reasonable accommodations. Employers can provide other protective measures to help you stay safe and healthy throughout the flu season.
Some accommodations include:
- Providing PPE to at-risk employees
- Allowing at-risk employees to work from home when possible
- Providing frequent handwashing breaks
- Providing hand sanitizer throughout the workplace
- Providing a private working space to at-risk employees when possible
How Should Your Company Handle Flu Shot Policies?
Yes, flu vaccines are important to protect employee and customer health. However, forcing employees to get a flu shot can lead any company down a long, slippery slope. Instead, your boss can try some other ideas to encourage flu shots.
Your boss may choose to recommend and encourage vaccines instead of mandating them. Some things they can implement may include:
- Post information about the influenza vaccine within the workplace.
- Bring a nurse into the office to administer flu shots.
- Pay for any flu shots not covered by insurance.
- Discuss options for employees who may not want to get the flu shot or cannot get it.
- Provide a hotline for employees who have questions regarding the flu shot before or after they receive it.
Your boss should never offer work benefits for those receiving the flu shot. Doing so would unfairly discriminate against anyone with a medical or religious exemption for the vaccine.
Can Your Boss Mandate a Coronavirus Vaccine?
The Coronavirus vaccine originally rolled out during the holiday season of 2020. Initially, it was made available to front line workers, such as doctors, nurses, EMTs, and medical personnel.
As the vaccine rollouts continue, eventually, the general public will receive permission to get the vaccine. Can your employer insist you receive the vaccine when it is your turn?
Many people are worried about the safety of the vaccine. They quote the standard time it takes to release a vaccine in the past. They quote unknown (and possibly unfounded) side effects. They also quote the standard religious and disability exemption.
The CDC, OSHA, and Department of Labor have not said anything about the employer’s rights to mandate the vaccine in the office. Coronavirus has shut down parts of our country and the world at least twice within the past eight months.
However, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has released guidelines for employee rights regarding the COVID vaccine. According to the EEOC, the same rules as the flu shot apply for ADA exemptions and religious exemptions. Therefore, you can rightfully refuse the flu vaccine if you have a medical or religious reason to do so.
If you refuse the vaccine, your employer must provide reasonable accommodations for your safety and theirs. These accommodations are similar to those provides for people refusing the flu vaccine.
You Have the Right of Refusal
Even in places where vaccines are mandated, you may have the right to refuse. You have a right to disability and religious exemptions. Make sure you let your boss know of your rights, concerns, and reasons. Help your boss come up with accommodations to keep you and others safe.
If your employer denies you these rights, seek legal help. The dedicated discrimination lawyers at the Derek Smith Law Group can help. Call 800.807.2209 for a free consultation.
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