This week, 41 states have seen widespread influenza activity, up from 31 states just the week before.Boston recently declared a public health emergency because of the flu, and mandatory flu shots made headlines when an Indiana hospital terminated six employees for refusing to get flu shots in violation of the hospital’s mandatory flu vaccine program.Nobody wants to come down with a coworker’s case of flu, and employers needing all hands on deck don’t want significant numbers of workers out sick.Therefore, some employers—particularly those in the healthcare field—mandate flu shots for everyone. An operator of assisted living facilities asked if it’s legal to require all staff to get a flu shot as a way to protect the safety of residents.Massachusetts public health officials were leaning on hospitals to improve the influenza vaccination rate among health care workers, which varied in hospitals from 62 percent to 99 percent during the most recent flu season.In response to Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s mandate, the Massachusetts Nurses Association sued the hospital in September 2014, seeking to block the policy that would require nurses to get flu shots if they wanted to keep their jobs.
The regulation at issue stated: “A hospital shall not require an individual to receive an influenza vaccine” if the employee has medical or religious reasons for refusing or if “the individual declines the vaccine.” Nurses unions are divided on the issue.
Many health care employers have implemented or are considering implementing mandatory flu vaccine programs, which the law does not outright prohibit.
However, there are some pitfalls that should be avoided.
The CDC has infection control recommendations for health care settings, but does not issue any requirements or mandates for state agencies regarding infection control practices.
Following the recommendation of the CDC, many health care institutions, including hospitals, state health departments, and nursing facilities are requiring that their employees receive an annual flu vaccination as a condition of continued employment.