Seasonal flu is not only unpleasant for employers and employees, it's expensive. Each flu season, nearly 111 million workdays are lost because of the flu, the US Department of Health & Human Services has found. That represents approximately $7 billion per year in sick days and lost productivity.
It's no wonder that some companies are considering requiring that employees get a flu vaccine every flu season. However, before implementing such a requirement, companies need to consider many different factors. While a flu vaccine offers the greatest protection against the virus, mandating it carries its own logistical costs and can lead to unhappy employees.
During the last flu season, a hospital in northern Indiana fired eight workers who refused to get vaccines against the seasonal disease. According to several media reports, IU Health Goshen Hospital had instituted a policy requiring employees to get flu shots. Several employees balked at getting the shots and tried to seek exemptions. The hospital decided not to grant exemptions and terminated the workers when they refused to change their minds.
For the hospital, maintaining a healthy work environment was critical. "IU Health's top priority is the health and well-being of our patients," the hospital announced in a press release. "As a trusted leader in caring for people and advancing health, we are responsible for delivering the best care in the safest environment. Influenza can be fatal for patients with weakened immune systems, children, and the elderly. Therefore, participation in the annual Influenza Patient Safety Program is a condition of employment with IU Health for the safety and health of the patients that we serve."
If your company is considering a mandatory approach, here's what you need to know in order to achieve the organization's goals of a healthier work environment while minimizing legal risk and worker discontent.
About Richard Alaniz
Richard D. Alaniz is senior partner at Alaniz and Schraeder, a national labor and employment firm based in Houston. He has been at the forefront of labor and employment law for over thirty years, including stints with the US Department of Labor and the National Labor Relations Board. Rick is a prolific writer on labor and employment law and conducts frequent seminars to client companies and trade associations across the country.