NEW YORK—As we once again get ready for flu season, employers are faced with the challenge of what to do to maintain a healthy workplace and assist with the wellness of employees. In the midst of this planning is the need for employers to respect individual employee’s beliefs about flu vaccines.
Both federal and state laws affect what employers can and cannot do. The key is that an employer may not require an employee to receive a vaccination if a sincerely held religious belief, disability or pregnancy prevents the employee from taking the influenza vaccine unless an undue hardship would result. And there are other restrictions to be aware of.
The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s guidance on the issue is that employers should encourage, but not require, flu shots. However, in many industries, such as health care providers, this advice is contrary to advice from other government agencies including the Center for Disease Control and even some state laws that have imposed flu vaccination requirements for employees in certain industries.
So, with that as a backdrop, what should you as an employer do? If your company is not in an industry with mandatory vaccination requirements, your company should consider encouraging but not requiring vaccination and making it as easy as possible for employees to receive the vaccination.
For example, a company may want to consider having a health care professional come into the office to provide flu vaccinations to those that want to receive it or even offer such vaccines at no cost. If the company is in an industry with mandatory vaccination requirements, the company may wish to have a process in place for employees to make accommodation requests and engage in the interactive process with the employee to explore accommodations.
Discussing your wellness program to your employees—and even their dependents, including annual flu vaccinations, is always a priority for a contemporary and thoughtful company. That thoughtfulness also includes being aware of and being sensitive to your employee’s beliefs or of their disabilities or pregnancy-status.
Hedley Lawson, Contributing Editor
Aligned Growth Partners, LLC