Can Employers Require Employees to Get a Flu Shot?

Every year employers struggle to cover for employees who are out sick with the flu, as well as germ control when sick employees come to work and spread their germs. Although mandatory flu vaccines are lawful, employers must make sure that their policy allows for exceptions to avoid running afoul of federal or state antidiscrimination laws.

Employees may cite religious objections to getting flu shots. In such a situation, employers must search for an accommodation to an employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs. This may entail excusing the employee from getting the vaccine, while requiring the employee to wear personal protective equipment, gloves, or a mask.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an employee with a disability may advise that a flu shot might worsen his condition or pose a danger to his health. In such a case, a doctor’s note to this effect may be required. This flu may be classified as a serious health condition if the employee is incapacitated for at least 3 days and receives continuing treatment from a health care provider.

Employers must also be concerned when an employee comes to work while contagious. In certain circumstances an employer may require a sick employee to stay home without pay. This is troublesome when the employee has no available sick leave. If an employee is sent home with the flu, it is important to document the employee’s file with a brief explanation of the decision. It should be clear that sending an employee home under these circumstances is not a disciplinary action. Time off under FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) may be available when flu complications arise.

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