Remember when you were a little kid and had to go get those shots that made you cry (don’t worry I won’t tell), just so you could go to school in the fall? Well, go get a box of tissues, because you may be required to get a flu shot to keep your job.
Last week, an Ohio health center terminated more than 100 employees for failing to get a mandated flu shot. The center required all employees to get the flu shot by November 16 or be fired. The center provided the shots for free, on site, and gave their more than 10,000 workers a month to get one. When some failed to do so, the center followed through on its promise and terminated them.
This is not new to many in the healthcare industry. In fact, some states have regulations requiring those in the medical field to get a flu vaccine. Of course, the laws generally have exceptions based on certain protected characteristics like religion or medical reasons like allergies, but otherwise they are entirely enforceable.
However, an employer does not have to be in the healthcare industry to make such a requirement of its employees. Unless a contract governs the employment relationship, any private employer can make the flu shot a condition of employment. Employment in most states is considered “at will,” meaning employers can fire people for any reason or no reason whatsoever, unless the decision to do so is based on a protected characteristic or otherwise deemed illegal. Not wanting to wear a bandage on your arm the rest of the day is not protected under the law, and neither is not believing in the science of the flu vaccine.
Whether employers want to make the flu shot a requirement is a different question that can raise all sorts of issues, not the least of which is employee morale. The apparent increase of flu epidemics occurring over the last few years will likely cause increased discussion on this topic. We’ll keep an eye on how it progresses.
Now, go get your shot!
About the author
Sharolyn Whiting-Ralston is a trial lawyer with the McAfee & Taft law firm. Her practice is primarily focused on labor and employment law and general civil and business litigation. She represents employers in all phases of labor and employment law, including litigation before state and federal courts, regulatory and administrative agencies, and arbitration panels. Her experience includes advising clients on such issues as drug and alcohol testing, employee handbook and policy development, wage and hour matters, workplace safety and reductions in force as well as litigation avoidance and compliance with other federal and state laws. In addition to her representation of employers in labor and employment matters, she represents clients in general civil and business litigation matters including construction disputes and complex commercial litigation.
Sharolyn has been a featured guest speaker at various training events and employment seminars, including a national audio conference, and has been a contributing author to the Oklahoma Employment Law Letter.
Her achievements have earned her inclusion in Oklahoma Super Lawyers‘ list of “Oklahoma Rising Stars” (employment and labor, business/corporate, environmental litigation), which recognizes the state’s top up-and-coming attorneys.