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Flu shots: can employers force employees to get vaccinated?

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Hundreds are losing their jobs for refusing flu shots, but can employers legally force employees to get vaccinated? In some cases yes, others no.

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Flu shots and the ongoing vaccination debate

Vaccinations have been in the spotlight in recent years as more people fight against them in the belief that they can make the recipient ill or worse, can cause other long term problems, while others refuse vaccinations for religious reasons.

Regardless, employers across the nation are requiring their entire workforce to get flu shots in the hope that it will help avoid lost time at work from sick employees spreading the virus to each other. It’s no secret that when someone gets the flu and spreads it, company productivity suffers. Flu shots are believed to be a good idea by most people as a means of fighting whatever strain is spreading that particular season.

Opponents believe the requirement is a complete violation of personal privacy, so much so that many risk their very jobs by refusing to get flu shots. While the law is clear that employees can say no for religious reasons, they cannot refuse flu shots simply because they do not believe in them, unless the work in an at-will employment state.

Employers trying to force employees to get flu shots in at-will employment states are not actually within their rights and cannot fire employees for refusing, no matter their intentions.

Hundreds losing their jobs for refusing to get flu shots

In Ohio, TriHealth required all employees to get flu shots by December 3, 2012, and has since fired more than 150 for non-compliance.

In Indiana, eight health care workers were fired last week for refusing the flu shot, and in the health care industry where the flu shot requirement is common, mandates have spread to include even accountants in the company. The trend of firing employees for refusing is being referred to as Flu Facism and lawsuits are beginning to be filed, particularly in at-will states.

Just this week, a former customer service agent at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital has sued the hospital after being fired a few years back for refusing a flu shot as it violates her veganism, and a judge has ruled for the case to move forward, opining that veganism falls under the religious belief category.

The debate rages on, and employers and employees should know their rights on a state level, as these are not the last lawsuits we will see regarding people losing their jobs for refusing the flu shot.

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