Influenza represents a serious public health concern each year. The disease is highly contagious and can spread through the air. Therefore, just being in the same vicinity as someone who has the flu can put you at risk of infection.
In an office setting, employees often work together in close quarters—increasing the likelihood of contagion. The spread of influenza within a workforce can disable company operations. Each year during flu season, there is a 32 percent spike in workplace absences.
As a result, employers are highly motivated to prevent the disease from entering the workplace. But can employers require their employees to get a flu vaccine?
While a company may implement a policy for all employees to get a flu shot, employees may refuse the shot for certain, legally-protected reasons. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act states that an employee at a company with at least 15 employees can refuse a flu shot if:
- The vaccination goes against their religious beliefs or
- They have a medical condition—such as pregnancy, severe allergy or other serious adverse side effects from the vaccination.
Failing to advise employees of their right to request a vaccine exemption—or failing to accept their legally-protected exemption—could lead to legal action against the employer.
However, it’s worth noting that personal conscience, debate over the vaccine’s effectiveness or any social or political philosophies are not considered legally-protected reasons to refuse the shot.
The Texas Workforce Commission discourages employers—even those with fewer than 15 employees—to require their staff to be vaccinated. However, employers may take steps to encourage vaccination:
- Educate: Teach employees about the health risks of influenza.
- Exposure control: Encourage employees who feel unwell to stay home. Offer paid sick leave.
- Infection control: Train employees to cough or sneeze into their arm rather than into their hands. Mandate regular handwashing with antibacterial soap.
- Protective equipment: Provide face masks, hand sanitizer and tissues to employees.
- Incentive: Pay for employee vaccinations. Provide on-site vaccination services, or allow employees to take paid time off to be vaccinated.
Stay healthy this flu season. Follow the above guidelines to keep yourself protected.