- Memorial Healthcare has agreed to pay $74,418 to settle an EEOC lawsuit alleging that a Michigan hospital violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by rescinding a job offer to a medical transcriptionist because of her religious opposition to getting the flu shot and refusing to accommodate her.
- The EEOC said Memorial Healthcare declined to accommodate the transcriptionist's sincerely held Christian beliefs, which required her to forgo inoculations. The hospital refused to allow her to wear a mask — an alternative that it offered those who had medical problems with the flu shot, the EEOC said.
- "Employees should not have to check their religious beliefs at the workplace door," said Dale Price, the EEOC attorney who handled the case. As part of the consent decree settling the case, the hospital now permits those with religious objections to wear masks instead of getting the flu shot and has also agreed to train managerial staff on the religious accommodation policy.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from discrimination based on their religion and also requires employers to accommodate their religious beliefs, unless doing so would cause undue hardship.
More than 800 health care organizations in the U.S. have flu vaccine mandates for employees, according to the Influenza Action Coalition. But the EEOC has cracked down on these policies in recent years, taking the position that employers may have to grant exemptions for a number of reasons, including religion and disability.
While many employers are fighting the lawsuits, some have agreed to substantial settlements to resolve the claims. For example, in 2016, a Pennsylvania hospital paid $300,000 to resolve an EEOC lawsuit over its mandatory flu shot policy after the agency alleged the policy discriminated against workers' religious beliefs.
Experts have recommended that employers limit policies to a subset of employees, grant exemptions as necessary and consider requiring that those who receive an exemption take other measures, such as wearing a mask.
Consistency is important. “Whatever accommodations might be feasible, employers should strive to offer options in a consistent manner. If an employer allows staff to wear masks instead of receiving the vaccine due to medical objections, for example, it should consider granting that same type of accommodation for religious objections,” employment law firm Littler Mendelsohn P.C. said on its blog.