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Can employers fire workers who do not take the flu shot?

So far this winter, people all across Detroit have come down with the flu. The 2012-2013 season is turning out to be one of the worst flu seasons in recent memory.

Believe it or not, an employment law aspect has emerged in news coverage of the flu epidemic.

Ohio-based healthcare company Tristate laid off 100 workers who did not get flu shots by Dec. 3. Other hospitals and healthcare facilities across the country have reportedly taken similar steps.

That begs the question: Are employers allowed to require that workers get the flu shot, and are they allowed to terminate workers who do not?

As for the first part of that question, whether employers can require the flu shot, the answer seems to be yes. Employers can put prospective employees through a health screening before hiring them and most legal sources seem to agree that a flu shot would fit within that concept.

As for the second element of that question, whether workers can be fired for not taking a flu shot, the answer here is a little more complicated.

If an employee refuses to take the flu shot for religious, moral or other deeply personal grounds, then it would be improper for the employer to fire the employee for not taking the flu shot.

That being said, many employees are "at will" employees, meaning they can be dismissed at any time for any permissible reason (age, sex or racial discrimination would not be permissible reasons, for example).

So, unfortunately, the answer to this question is: "Maybe, maybe not." As if often the case with employment law questions, it is always best to have a consultation with an attorney about your specific situation, since every set of circumstances is different.

Source: Fox Business, "Do Employees Have the Right to Refuse Flu Shot?" Kate Rogers, Jan. 18, 2013

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