With the flu season in full swing, many employers are promoting optional seasonal flu vaccines to ward off the spread of illness in the workplace. But one hospital in Pennsylvania recently learned that its mandatory seasonal flu vaccine requirement for employees violated federal religious discrimination laws. And now, the hospital has been ordered to pay up.
According to a lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Saint Vincent Health Center had a mandatory flu shot requirement for all of its employees but refused to grant religious exemptions from flu vaccinations. Instead, the hospital retaliated against six employees who opted out of getting flu shots due to religious reasons.
The suit also alleged that in October 2013, Saint Vincent Health Center implemented the seasonal flu vaccination requirement for all employees unless they were granted exemptions due to religious or medical reasons. Saint Vincent's policy stated that those who received exemptions had to wear face masks when in contact with patients during flu season in lieu of receiving flu shots.
Hospital Denies All Religious Exemptions, Employees Fired
The EEOC's suit also alleged that between October 2013 and January 2014, six Saint Vincent employees who were identified in its complaint asked for religious exemptions due to sincerely held religious beliefs. But the hospital denied all religion-based requests for accommodation. Instead, the employees were fired for not complying with the hospital's mandatory flu shot requirement. During the same period, the hospital received several medical exemptions requests and granted fourteen of them.
Victims Will Receive Monetary Relief and Offers of Reinstatement
The six victims will receive back pay and compensatory damages in the amount of $300,000. Saint Vincent Health Center is also required to give the former employees offers of reinstatement. Under the consent decree, if Saint Vincent continues to require flu shots as a condition of employment, the hospital must grant religious exemptions to employees with sincerely held religious beliefs unless the exemption poses an undue hardship on hospital operations. Saint Vincent has also been ordered to notify all employees of their rights to request religious accommodations and establish appropriate procedures for accommodation considerations.
Religious Accommodation Under Title VII, FEHA
While Title VII and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) do not prohibit employers in the health care industry from implementing mandatory flu shot requirements for employees outright, internal workplace policies and requirements must adhere to federal and state reasonable accommodation and anti-discrimination laws.
No one should have to worry about losing a job due to sincerely held religious beliefs. If you feel that your employer is violating your rights to reasonable accommodation under Title VII or the FEHA, contact an experienced California employment attorney at Hennig Ruiz for a free consultation today.