Refusing a flu shot permissible under religious exemption, court rules

Protection from religious bias casts a wide net under federal law — all the way to whether or not a healthcare facility can require employees to receive a flu shot.  
Pennsylvania-based Saint Vincent Health Center will pay $300,000 in back pay and compensatory damages to six former employees to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit that centered on the health center’s mandatory flu shot program, the EEOC announced.
In its lawsuit, the agency charged that Saint Vincent required a seasonal flu vaccination for its employees unless they were granted an exemption for medical or religious reasons. Under the policy, employees who received an exemption were required to wear a face mask while having patient contact.
According to the EEOC, the Health Center granted 14 vaccination exemption requests based on medical reasons. Six employees identified in the agency complaint requested religious exemptions from the vaccination requirement based on sincerely held religious beliefs. The Health Center denied all six.
When the employees continued to refuse the vaccine based on their religious beliefs, the Health Center fired them.
The EEOC filed suit against the Health  in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. The consent decree was signed by Senior U.S. District Judge Barbara J. Rothstein.
In addition to the monetary monetary relief and offers of reinstatement for the six employees, the consent decree contains other conditions. They include:

  • If the Health Center chooses to require employee influenza vaccination as a condition of employment, it must grant exemptions from that requirement to all employees with sincerely held religious beliefs who request exemptions from the vaccination on religious grounds, unless such exemptions pose an undue hardship on the Health Center’s operations.
  • The Health Center must notify employees of their right to request religious exemptions and establish appropriate procedures for considering any such accommodation requests.
  • The Health Center must provide training regarding Title VII reasonable accommodation to its key personnel and maintain reasonable accommodation policies and accommodation request procedures.