Labor & Employment Blog

Keeping You Informed

EMPLOYEE DECLINED VACCINATIONS AND RELIGIOUS BELIEFS: EMPLOYER OBLIGATION TO ACCOMMODATE

By: Storrs Downey

We have previously written an article on religious accommodations,Religious Accommodations In The Workplace: Practical Lessons,DRI’s In-House Defense Quarterly Magazine, Summer 2016, and continue to keep a close eye on how the courts are addressing religious protections within the context of the employment setting.

In 2016 Mission Hospital, Inc., a North Carolina corporation, was sued by the EEOC for failing to accommodate the religious beliefs of employees who declined to undergo annual flu vaccinations and three such employees were fired as result.  EEOC v. Mission Hospital, Inc., 1:16-cv-00118 (Western District of North Carolina, Asheville Division). The plaintiffs have argued they were fired because of their religious beliefs. The employer argues that they discharged the employees for failing to follow the hospital’s accommodation procedure for the vaccine.

The discharged employees religious beliefs on not getting vaccinated ranged from the position that injecting a flu vaccine was morally or spiritually wrong to healing only occurs with plants, fruits and grains. Each of them submitted requests for religious accommodations but were denied for untimely filing same. The plaintiffs denied receiving any such submission deadlines.

In denying the hospital’s motion for summary judgment thereby requiring this case proceed to trial, the court held that a jury could find that the hospital treated individuals with religiously held beliefs differently and did not accommodate those beliefs.

If the hospital had been more flexible with its vaccination schedule and allowed these plaintiffs to skip the vaccines, consistent with their religious beliefs, this case would not exist.This case, like many other religious accommodations cases, will need to be closely monitored.

This case, like many other religious accommodations cases, will need to be closely monitored.

  • by Stuart Fisher
  • posted at 3:06 PM
  • 08/31/2017