The issue of mandatory flu vaccinations and requests for exemption from flu vaccinations based on religious grounds has recently found itself before the EEOC. The EEOC has not taken such religious discrimination claims lightly. In fact, on June 25, 2019, the EEOC released a statement that Memorial Healthcare in Owosso, Michigan would pay damages, along with other relief, to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit filed by the EEOC.

The EEOC alleged that Memorial violated federal law in refusing to hire a medical transcriptionist because of her religious beliefs against flu shots. According to the EEOC, Memorial refused to accommodate the beliefs of the transcriptionist, and further declined to accept her offer to wear a mask during flu season. Under hospital policy, wearing a mask was a viable alternative to inoculation; however, Memorial refused to extend this accommodation to the transcriptionist, and thereafter rescinded its offer of employment. Therefore, the EEOC alleged that Memorial’s actions violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which mandates that employers provide reasonable accommodations for religious beliefs, absent undue hardship.

To settle the lawsuit, Memorial will pay damages totaling $74,418. Memorial will also permit employees with religious objections to wear a mask, rather than receive a flu shot. Finally, Memorial will train its staff in the accommodation policy.

This lawsuit and settlement are potentially significant for employers. As they balance the need for employees to receive a flu vaccine for the safety and well-being of employees, co-workers and customers/patients with accommodation of religious beliefs.

Please note that this Article does not constitute legal advice nor does it establish an attorney/client relationship.

Hodges and Davis, P.C. — November 2019

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