What to Consider Before Encouraging or Requiring Flu Shots

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Fall is here and many employers are getting anxious about flu season. With COVID-19 still unchecked, they could soon find themselves in the position of battling staffing challenges and employee health issues from two dueling infections.

While healthcare employers have long mandated flu shots for employees, many others are considering imposing vaccine requirements for the first time. Here are some issues to consider along with possible employee talking points if you decide to encourage or require the shots.

Federal Law Doesn’t Prohibit Vaccine Requirement

Under federal law, employers may impose reasonable vaccine requirements. In most situations, however, you should be prepared to provide exemptions or accommodations for bona fide religious or health objections under Title VII of the Civil Rights of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employees asserting disability-related reasons have the highest level of protection.

Some states may permit employees to raise other reasons for being exempted from the vaccine requirement. Therefore, you should always consult with employment counsel about the state law’s impact on your policy decisions.

Standard Accommodation for Vaccine-Refusing Employees

Healthcare employers have been requiring the flu vaccine for years now; in fact, some of them have been mandated to do so. You can expect the practices that have worked in the medical arena generally suffice for most other businesses.

When healthcare employers receive a valid religious or health-related request from an employee to avoid the flu vaccine, they generally accommodate the individual by requiring him to wear a face mask while working.

Factors to Consider When Pinning Down Your Flu Shot Policy

Employers in nonhealthcare settings will need to decide if they will encourage or mandate flu vaccines in 2020. (For what it’s worth, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) prefers for employers to encourage the shots.) Factors to consider include:

  • Current risk of transmission in the workplace (e.g., whether employees are working closely or interacting with consumers);
  • Special business justifications beyond just weathering the flu season’s likely attendance fallout in the midst of a pandemic (e.g., working with vulnerable populations or doing a job for which you would expect the rates of transmission to consumers or coworkers to be high);
  • Whether health safety measures are in effect (e.g., face masks are already required);
  • Your level of expertise to promptly evaluate religious, health, and personal requests for accommodations; and
  • Risks of harming employee morale and/or losing valued workers if a flu vaccine is mandatory.

Work with legal counsel to assess how the factors line up for your particular work setting and population.

If You Mandate Flu Shots, Expect Resistance

Nationally, a slight majority of U.S. adults don’t receive the flu vaccine each year. For the 2018-19 flu season (the most recent season for which Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics are available), only 45.3% of adults got the vaccine. In Alabama, for example, the figure was 44.8%. Among most working-age adults (ages 18-64) in Alabama, however, the vaccination rate was just 37.4% (nationally, it’s 39%)…

Source: HR Daily Advisor

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