Flu season is still in full swing, and it’s not too late to get a flu shot – or to require your employees to get one.

Generally, and contrary to some misconception, it is legal to require employees to get a flu shot, and the practice is especially wise for healthcare personnel.  In fact, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that healthcare personnel who live with or care for persons at higher risk for flu-related complications be vaccinated every year.  Persons at higher risk include residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities as well as all children aged six through 59 months; all people 50 years or older; people with chronic pulmonary (including asthma), cardiovascular (except isolated hypertension), renal, hepatic, neurological, hematologic, or metabolic disorders (including diabetes mellitus); people who have immunosuppression; pregnant women; children and adolescents on long-term aspirin therapy who are at risk for Reye’s syndrome after flu infection; American Indians and Alaska Natives; and people who are morbidly obese.

If you require flu shots in your workplace, remember that exceptions may need to be made.  For example, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) advises that employees with a disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) that prevent him or her from taking the vaccine may not be required to take it.  Similarly, an employee with a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance which prevents him or her from taking the flu shot may not have to take the shot.  Also, it may not be wise to require vaccinations for employees who have certain allergies (for instance, an egg allergy) or who have had adverse reactions to vaccinations in the past.  In these cases, it’s probably best to consult with both a health professional and attorney.

Earlier, we mentioned the importance of having a flu shot for employees working in the healthcare sector.  In addition to the flu shot, the Centers for Disease Control recommends that healthcare personnel be vaccinated against a range of other conditions, including but not limited to hepatitis B, measles, mumps, rubella, pertussis (whooping cough), and varicella (chickenpox).  In fact, employers are required to pay for the hepatitis B vaccine for any healthcare personnel whose job exposes them to blood or other potentially infectious materials. 

The ACIP also recommends maintaining a computerized system to keep vaccination records for healthcare personnel, reflecting immunity status for indicated vaccine-preventable diseases, including the documented disease and vaccination history or serology results; vaccinations administered during employment; episodes of adverse events after vaccination; the date of each vaccine administration; the manufacturer, lot number, edition, and distribution date of the Vaccine Information Statement provided to the employee at the time of vaccination; and the name, address, and title of the person who administered the vaccine.  It’s also a good idea to provide your employees with a copy of their vaccination records and encourage them to keep a copy with their personal health records.

For concerns about specific employees, it’s best to consult your attorney on a case-by-case basis.

Kaite Robidoux focuses her practice in the area of labor and employment law.
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