Achoo! What to Do About the Flu

11.03.20Baylee Olsen

Achoo! What to Do About the Flu

Can you require your employees to get a flu shot?

Every year in the Fall, many employers struggle with whether or not to require their employees to get a flu shot. In this year of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become an even more important question to consider.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that getting a flu shot is more important than ever this year to protect yourself and the people around you and to reduce the burden on healthcare systems that are becoming increasingly overwhelmed while responding to COVID-19. The CDC recommends that with some exceptions, everyone over 6 months old should have a flu vaccine.

However, what does that mean to your workplace?  Can you require your employees to get a flu shot?  Should you?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has always recommended that employers should encourage but not require employees to get a flu shot. If an employer is covered by the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, they will need to consider an employee’s medical conditions or religious beliefs even during a pandemic.

In March of 2020, the CDC updated its guidance on pandemics and urged employers and employees to follow these guidelines along with the guidelines from their state and local public health officials on ways to slow the spread of COVID-19. However, they did not change the stance above on requiring flu shots.

Employers are required to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards and have a right to establish legitimate health and safety requirements as long as they are job-related and consistent with business necessity. Whether an employer can mandate a shot will depend on the employers industry and location. For example, mandating a flu shot is more likely to be appropriate for employees in healthcare or if they provide services to clients who are at high risk if they were to contract it. Some states also mandate a flu shot for certain employees in the workplace.

Even if the employer is able to mandate the flu shot for its employees, they need to be aware of the requirements of the ADA and Title VII if an employee says they can not get the shot for medical or religious reasons. The employer is required to engage in an interactive dialogue with the employee to determine if a reasonable accommodation can be made.

So, what should you do?

  • Unless your company is required by state law or is in healthcare, child care or other industries where keeping your employees and patients/clients safe from the complications of flu, it is recommended to follow the EEOC guidance of strongly encouraging but not requiring your employees to get a flu shot.
  • When encouraging employees to get a flu shot, you can educate them with information from the CDC on why it is important. You can also provide information on how they can get a free or low-cost shot in your area.
  • If you decide to require a flu shot, be sure it is based on objective facts and is related to employees job duties and the needs of your workplace.
  • If you require a flu shot and an employee comes to you with a request for an exemption to getting one, your first step is to engage them in an interactive dialogue to determine if you can provide a reasonable accommodation without undue hardship to your business.
  • Document all steps you take when requiring a flu shot and when engaging in a dialogue with an employee who has requested an accommodation.

How Can SDHRC Help?

If you are considering what your policy on flu shots should be or have an employee who is requesting an exemption from getting one, our expert HR Consultants can help you walk through this challenging area!


About the Author

Traci Hagan, “Treasure Trove”

Traci is an HR Consultant who has been with SDHRC for over 2 years but has over 32 years of experience in employee relations, conflict resolution benefits administration, training and development, workers’ comp and staffing! Traci is also a Professor who enjoys traveling and spending time with her 16-year-old “puppy”.