Ask the Experts: Mandatory Flu Vaccination Policies for Health Care Workers

Question: Are there state laws that allow health care employers to impose a mandatory flu-vaccination policy for health care workers?

Answer: Yes, there are some state laws that require health care workers to get a mandatory flu vaccine.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), healthcare facilities across the country are increasingly requiring healthcare workers to be vaccinated for certain diseases in an effort to reduce outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. In some instances, facilities are establishing these requirements due to mandates in state statutes and regulations. Currently, 18 states have flu vaccination requirements for hospital healthcare workers, and 16 states establish requirements for hospital patients. These laws establish requirements based on the hospital type and the type of vaccination requirements. In addition, some state laws allow for vaccination exemptions. The CDC also recommends that healthcare workers receive the flu vaccine on an annual basis.

However, as with any workplace policy, it’s imperative to create a concise policy that is applied consistently throughout the workforce to avoid claims of discrimination. Additionally, the policy should allow for exemptions where an employee may be allergic to the vaccine or have an objection (such as a religious reason for the objection). For instance, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) an employer covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 may not compel all of its employees to get the influenza vaccine regardless of their medical conditions or their religious beliefs during a pandemic. An employee may be entitled to an exemption from a mandatory vaccination requirement based on an ADA disability that prevents him or her from getting the influenza vaccine. This would be a reasonable accommodation barring undue hardship (significant difficulty or expense). Similarly, under Title VII, once an employer receives notice that an employee’s sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance prevents him or her from receiving the influenza vaccine, the employer must provide a reasonable accommodation unless it would pose an undue hardship as defined by Title VII (“more than de minimis cost” to the operation of the employer’s business, which is a lower standard than under the ADA).