The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has been paying close attention to employers’ mandatory flu vaccine policies and has filed several lawsuits in recent years related to these types of policies. Because of this scrutiny, employers need to be aware of the pitfalls to avoid.
Know the Standard
Title VII requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees’ sincerely held religious beliefs when requested, unless accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer. The threshold for whether a belief is religious in nature is low. That being said, it is worth noting that “purely personal, political, ideological, or secular beliefs probably would not satisfy enough criteria for inclusion.” [United States v. Meyers, 906 F. Supp. 1494, 1504 (D. Wyo. 1995), aff’d, 95 F.3d 1475 (10th Cir. 1996)]
Therefore, if an employee provides documentation that their religious beliefs are sincerely held, the employer must offer a reasonable accommodation, as long as that accommodation would not impose an undue hardship.
Offer Reasonable Accommodations
While the case law on this issue is unsettled, there are several potential accommodations employers can consider. For example, employers could require employees who refuse to receive a flu shot with a mask to wear. Another potential accommodation is transferring an employee to a position where he or she will not have as much interaction with clients or patients.
Revise Scope of Policies
For some employers it may make sense to revise the scope of vaccination policies to only cover those employees who have direct contact with clients or patients. This is especially true for employers in the medical field.
Understanding these policies and others can help you avoid potential legal headaches. If you have a concern or if conflict arises in your business, our team of employment attorneys is here to help.
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