Suit Settled Against Hospital That Wouldn’t Accommodate Employees Objecting to Flu Shot

An employer can require as a condition of employment that employees get a flu shot. But like any other condition of employment, this one is subject to the duty of reasonable accommodation when an employee objects on religious grounds to the requirement.

That’s the upshot of an announcement by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that it settled a Title VII religious discrimination lawsuit it brought against Saint Vincent Health Center located in Erie, Pa.

According to the EEOC, in October 2013, the Health Center) implemented a mandatory seasonal flu vaccination requirement 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 during flu season in lieu of receiving the vaccination. Employees who refused the vaccine but were not granted an exemption by the Health Center were fired, according to EEOC’s lawsuit.

From October 2013 to January 2014, EEOC alleged, the six employees identified in its complaint requested religious exemptions from the Health Center’s flu vaccination requirement based on sincerely held religious beliefs, and the Health Center denied their requests. When the employees continued to refuse the vaccine based on their religious beliefs, the Health Center fired them.

According to EEOC’s lawsuit, during this same period, the Health Center granted fourteen (14) vaccination exemption requests based on medical reasons while denying all religion-based exemption requests.

The six employees will share in a $300,000 monetary award under the settlement.

The settlement also comes with a whole lot of stipulations:

(1) 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 exemption from the vaccination on religious grounds unless such exemption poses an undue hardship on the Health Center’s operations;

(2) it t must also notify employees of their right to request religious exemption and establish appropriate procedures for considering any such accommodation requests.

(3) when considering requests for religious accommodation, the Health Center must adhere to the definition of “religion” established by Title VII and controlling federal court decisions, a definition that forbids employers from rejecting accommodation requests based on their disagreement with an employee’s belief; their opinion that the belief is unfounded, illogical, or inconsistent in some way; or their conclusion that an employee’s belief is not an official tenet or endorsed teaching of any particular religion or denomination.

(4) the Health Center must provide training regarding Title VII reasonable accommodation to its key personnel and that it maintain reasonable accommodation policies and accommodation request procedures that reflect Title VII requirements.

 

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