Can Employers Make Flu Shots Mandatory?
Now that fall is here, it’s time to start thinking about annual flu shots. The decision over whether to get vaccinated or not has always been a personal one, but in a year where COVID-19 has deeply affected our way of life, the debate may be more contentious than usual.
Many people view flu shots as the best line of defense in keeping your immune system healthy, while others may be less inclined to get an inoculation due to fears of crowded doctor’s offices. Some employers have gone so far as to require flu shots, leaving skittish workers wondering if that is even legal.
Vaccinations as Conditional Employment Requirements
The anxiety over flu shots this season is expected to reach a fever pitch. Whether your employer can mandate that you get a vaccine largely depends on where you work.
Most healthcare organizations, childcare facilities and senior living facilities make vaccinations a conditional requirement of employment. This makes sense: when you are regularly exposed to sick individuals or those whose immune systems may be weakened or not fully developed, the responsible thing to do is to get a flu shot in order to reduce the odds of spreading illness. This year, we are seeing an increase in non-healthcare employers encouraging that their employees get flu shots to protect everybody. While few companies would be justified in mandating their workers to get flu shots, given that we are in the midst of a global pandemic, they are well within their right to strongly encourage their employees to take action.
This is a sticky situation for most employers as they attempt to balance workplace health and safety with employee rights. Before you think about making flu shots a requirement, realize that employees with disabilities, health conditions or religious beliefs have every right to opt-out of getting vaccinated. When that occurs, other employees are going to feel like they are being treated differently and may begin to push back. Suddenly, you’ve got a fight on your hands that might exacerbate the tension we are all feeling in these difficult times.
In the interest of fairness, you can have employees who are claiming medical exemptions sign a consent form allowing you to find out more about their condition or request. The same applies to those with disabilities, per the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In short: try your best to encourage healthy behaviors and preventive care as cold and flu season sets in.