Would You Fire Employees for Refusing a Flu Shot?

Is it legal to require employees to get the flu shot—and to fire them if they don't?
Business Writers
December 06, 2012

Just before Thanksgiving, an Ohio-based health center put 150 employees on notice that they would be fired if they did not receive a flu shot by Dec. 3, the official start of flu season.

TriHealth has a mandate that every single member of its workforce get the flu vaccine. It’s offered free on the premises, and employees are given a month to offer up their arms for a jab. Since the letter arrived, hospital officials say 82 employees had either received the shot or provided a valid reason (religious beliefs or an allergy to the flu vaccine) why they could not receive the shot.

Of the 68 remaining employees, 59 are what TriHealth calls “optional,” meaning they are agency employees who work with the company on a temporary basis. Those workers still need to receive the flu shot or provide a valid reason why they can't. Any employee who completes the approved paperwork to skip the shot is required to wear a mask when working around patients, the company says.

Is it Legal to Require Employees to Get a Flu Shot?

... And fire them for refusing to do so?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 states plus the District of Columbia have laws requiring health workers to get the flu vaccine. And according to the Lawyers.com blog, most employment is "at will," meaning most employees can be fired at any reason for any time. 

It will surprise no one that mandates have a significant effect on the vaccination rate. U.S. hospitals that require flu shots reported a vaccination rate of 95.2 percent in the 2011-12 season, compared with 68.2 percent at hospitals where they were not mandated, the CDC said.

Healthcare Workers Push Back

Still, labor groups have objected. The 1 million-member Service Employees International Union released a statement decrying the mandates’ "absence [of] a basic philosophic or personal exemption for healthcare workers." The AFL-CIO and National Nurses United joined the SEIU in the statement, and various other unions also have objected.

Currently, the American Medical Association’s code of ethics states that physicians “have an obligation to: (a) Accept immunization absent a recognized medical, religious, or philosophic reason not to be immunized.”

A study published last year in the British medical journal The Lancet—but conducted by American researchers—found that the flu vaccine is 59 percent effective.

Read more posts about legal issues.

Photo: Thinkstock

Business Writers