Religious Exemptions for Mandatory Vaccines

Vol. 16 No. 3

PSN eletter vol15 no3 fluvaccine

Thankfully flu season is behind us for the 2017 season. However, a new ruling from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) concerning mandatory vaccinations is keeping vaccines in our risk-planning minds. In fact, this ruling might justify an early update to your employee handbooks.

Although the original case did not stem from an educational facility, the ruling could certainly broaden to encompass all employers. Here is the case as posted by the EEOC:

Saint Vincent Health Center will pay $300,000 constituting back pay and compensatory damages to a class of six aggrieved former employees … .

In addition to requiring monetary relief and offers of reinstatement for the six employees, the consent decree contains multiple injunctive components. Under the decree, if the Health Center chooses to require employee influenza vaccination as a condition of employment, it must grant exemptions from that requirement to all employees with sincerely held religious beliefs who request exemption from the vaccination on religious grounds unless such exemption poses an undue hardship on the Health Center’s operations, and it must also notify employees of their right to request religious exemption and establish appropriate procedures for considering any such accommodation requests. The decree also requires that when considering requests for religious accommodation, the Health Center must adhere to the definition of “religion” established by Title VII and controlling federal court decisions, a definition that forbids employers from rejecting accommodation requests based on their disagreement with an employee’s belief; their opinion that the belief is unfounded, illogical, or inconsistent in some way; or their conclusion that an employee’s belief is not an official tenet or endorsed teaching of any particular religion or denomination.

The prosecutor for this case, Philadelphia District regional attorney Debra M. Lawrence, summarized the ruling:

While Title VII does not prohibit health care employers from adopting seasonal flu vaccination requirements for their workers, those requirements, like any other employment rules, are subject to the employer’s Title VII duty to provide reasonable accommodation for religion. In that context, reasonable accommodation means granting religious exemptions to employees with sincerely held religious beliefs against vaccination when such exemptions do not create an undue hardship on the employer’s operations.

How does this impact private-independent schools? If your school requires faculty, staff, and students to be vaccinated before coming onto campus, your policies must allow for religious exemptions.

Additional ISM resources of interest
The Source for Private School News Vol. 13 No. 8 Herd Immunity and Vaccination Exemptions in Private Schools
ISM Monthly Update for Admission Officers Vol. 8 No. 2 Swine Flu Vaccine: Balancing the Possible Side Effects Versus the Rewards
ISM Monthly Update for Admission Officers Vol. 7 No. 7 The Ongoing Gardasil Controversy
ISM Monthly Update for Business Officers Vol. 10 No. 2 Reducing Student Risk With Up-to-Date Medical Records

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