Burr Alert: Understanding Workplace Policies Amid Flu Season

Articles / Publications

According to the Weekly U.S. Influenza Surveillance Report, as of the February 10, 2018 week's end, influenza activity remained elevated across the United States. The 2017-2018 flu season has been intense - so much so that more than 80 pediatric deaths have been reported across the country since October 1, 2017. While a vast majority of cases have been linked to young children and individuals 65 and older, the severity of this season's flu outbreak should call the attention of employers with respect to costs and workplace policies.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) records show that, in comparison to recent seasons, this year's flu outbreak is more widespread as a result of the H3N2 strain. As flu cases continue to increase, employers may see a rise in costs due to loss of productivity and health care. Based on the number of flu cases reported by the CDC, one firm estimated that if employees took approximately four sick days to recover, employers could see resulting costs well into the billions. The mere potential of prohibitive costs often tempts employers to create hardline rules to combat such flu-like pandemics.

In many instances, policies meant to tackle the flu season center on mandatory vaccinations and workplace leave. Employers should be wary of stringent workplace rules, understanding that how the policies and rules are crafted can be critical. For instance, this past January, in EEOC v. Mission Hosp., Inc., a hospital in North Carolina found its way to settlement after it fired Christian and Muslim employees who refused to take the flu vaccination due to their religious beliefs. As can be seen through this case, though employers may think they are taking a proactive approach by requiring mandatory vaccines, such a hard fast rule can result in the following:

  • Violation of privacy claims;
  • Worker's compensation issues and obligations for any type of medical reaction triggered by the vaccination;
  • Failure to reasonably accommodate claims for those employees seeking to be exempt for religious reasons; and
  • Union organization attempts.

Download the full article, "Burr Alert: Understanding Workplace Policies Amid Flu Season" written by Miya Moore.

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