Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Hospital Coughs Up $300,000 in Vaccination Lawsuit

We've been here before. Employers (often hospitals) require employees to get vaccines. Some employees object on religious or disability grounds. They get fired. Litigation ensues.

You can read my prior analysis of such issues here, here, or here. To cut to the chase, the employer can prevail by showing that either:

  • The employer cannot accommodate the vaccine-less employees without incurring an undue hardship; or 
  • The lack of vaccine poses a direct threat to health or safety.
This should be relatively easy to establish in a hospital, right? Kids, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems are all over the place. So, why did a Pennsylvania hospital cough up $300,000 to settle an EEOC lawsuit?

Well, per the Complaint, the hospital did accommodate some people by exempting them from the vaccine requirement so long as they wore a face mask. It becomes harder to argue that an exemption from the vaccine requirement imposes an undue hardship or direct threat when they're handing out accommodations like this. 

For reasons that are not clear, the hospital allegedly declined to grant the accommodation to other employees. Again, per the Complaint, the employees' religions included Russian Orthodox, Baptist, Methodist, Mysticism, and more. One employee allegedly submitted Bible passages and had her priest contact the hospital (this sounds like a sincerely held religious belief, am I right?).

Bottom line: If employers are going to make vaccines mandatory, they need to either hold a hard line (in cases where vaccine-less employees pose a threat to the health or safety or patients or otherwise impose an undue hardship, for example); or, consistently accommodate employees with sincerely held religious beliefs (or disabilities).