It is that time of the year, the beginning of flu season. Of course it is also that time of the year that brings more people in contact with each other. Company parties, family gatherings, crowded stores and more travelers all lead to the opportunities for passing infection. In my business I meet a lot of people and do a lot of networking so I have already had my flu shot. I had a client as me if they can require a flu shot of their employees. Naturally like all good answers in HR I told them it depends.
Start with a policy
If you are going to require flu shots it is good to have a policy that explains why it is required. Ask what is the business necessity? Do you need to protect your client population such as a medical office would? Do you have a childcare facility where transmitting flu to the children would be unacceptable? These are the types of considerations that attorney Tiffani McDonough says you need to think through as your develop your policy. You need to be able to articulate the business necessity to anyone that objects.
Assuming you have thought through that business necessity and have decided you want everyone to get the shot you can just go ahead and institute the program right? Well not so fast. There are those “it depends” considerations you have to deal with first.
Religious and ADA considerations
Most flu shots have a base that is egg related and this causes problems for some people. Some Vegans do not want the flu serum introduced into their bodies because of their vegan beliefs. According to McDonough there has been court support for Veganism being a genuine religious based reason to object to egg based flu shots. So someone may object on that basis.
Other individuals may have a medical based reason for objecting to the flu shot. They may have an allergy to eggs or an already compromised immune system that would be compromised even further by the flu vaccine. In these cases they have a potential ADA claim and you need to engage in the documented and interactive discussion required by the ADA Amendments Act.
One solution is now offered today that may help with both these issues. According to the Mayo Clinic non-egg based flu vaccines are now available. And for those who are needle phobic there are spray vaccines as well.
In some cases you have to be careful that instituting a mandatory flu shot policy does not violate the terms of a union contract. Attorney McDonough says you need to notify the union of the policy and allow them the opportunity to bargain over the policy, UNLESS the union has already waived the right to do that in the management rights clause of the contract. You will want to check to be sure.
Directions to employees
One of the areas you will want to cover in your policy is directions to employees on what to do if they get sick with the flu. Of course the best direction is to NOT COME TO WORK. Making multiple people sick in your organization is not the best way to be considered a good employee. Passing around the flu in a small company can be very damaging to the operations of the company. Encourage them to stay home. If they have guild feelings, or tight schedules or have already exhausted all paid time off then look for ways to allow them to work from home.
Remember that exempt employees cannot have deductions taken from their paycheck if they work any portion of the week in which they are sick. You can deduct that time from a bona fide plan, policy or practice of providing compensation for loss of salary occasioned by such sickness or disability.
Here is hoping you don’t suffer the effects, either personally or the company, of the flu season. Let’s face it though the odds are you will, since according to the CDC up to 20% of the population could get the flu. For additional information read this SHRM article (membership may be required.)