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Flu Vaccine Misstep Costs Employer $50K


A Michigan hospital has agreed to pay $50,000 and furnish other relief to settle an accusation of pulling a job offer because the applicant sought a religious exemption to its flu vaccine requirement.

Hiring Process, general human resources
Hiring Process, general human resources

The suit, filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), said the hospital violated the religious discrimination ban under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) by pulling the offer based on the request.

Trinity Health Grand Rapids, which was formerly known as Mercy Health St. Mary's, conditionally offered the applicant a job as a business office coordinator, according to an EEOC press release.

While the offer was pending, the agency explained, the applicant asked for a religious-based exemption to the flu shot requirement.

Trinity responded by denying the request and rescinding the offer, the agency said.

Flu vaccine issue leads to $50K payment

To end the suit, Trinity agreed to pay the applicant $11,348 in back pay together with $38,651 in non-economic damages. In addition, it is enjoined from denying future similar requests unless granting them would produce an undue hardship. Finally, it will provide Title VII training to human resources and senior leadership team personnel.

The hospital's flu shot policy has since been rescinded, the EEOC said.

EEOC knows the ropes

The EEOC is no stranger to litigation involving requests for religious exemptions to vaccine requirements set by employers.

Here is a sampling of some prior cases:

  • In September of 2023, the agency sued an Ohio health care provider who denied a telecommuter's request for a religious exemption from its COVID-19 vaccine requirement. The employee was a supervisor of clinical administration who worked full time from home and did not need to meet with people in person or even enter workplace facilities, the agency alleged.
  • In December of 2022, the agency filed a similar suit against Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, alleging that the pediatric healthcare system violated Title VII when it denied a maintenance employee's request for a religious exemption to the system's flu vaccination requirement. The system had granted the same request in prior years before denying it and terminating the man's employment, the suit said.
  • In 2018, the agency recovered $89,000 on behalf of Asheville, North Carolina, hospital employees who were fired after presenting religious objections to a flu vaccine requirement. There, the hospital imposed what the EEOC called an arbitrary deadline for filing an exemption request.
  • In 2016, the agency recovered $300,000 on behalf of six health center employees who were fired after refusing to get a flu vaccine for religious reasons. In that case, the EEOC alleged that the employer granted several medical-based exemption requests while denying all exemption requests that were based on religion.

5 quick tips

Here are five quick tips relating to vaccinations and the workplace.

  1. Do not dismiss a request for a religious exemption out of hand. There is no doubt that Title VII's ban on religious discrimination includes a duty to consider requests for religious exemptions to vaccine requirements. Rejecting such requests in a blanket fashion and without conducting an individualized assessment is a big mistake.
  2. Instead of requiring employees to get a particular vaccine, encourage them to do so. Encouraging employees to get a vaccine (without coercing them) does not create legal risk.
  3. Host a flu vaccination clinic in the workplace. Promote the clinic internally such as with posters and emails, and incentivize participation with things like reduced cost or refreshments.
  4. Evaluate each religious exemption request to determine whether it would produce an undue hardship. This determination is to be made by looking at whether granting the request would result in substantial increased costs in relation to the operation of the business.
  5. Be aware of potentially effective accommodations, such as allowing the employee to wear a mask; temporarily assigning them job duties that do not require vaccination; or reassigning them to a job that does not require vaccination.

Posted In: Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19); Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC); Religious Accommodation; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII)

Want to know more? Read the full article by at HR Morning

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