September 17, 2009

Can employers require swine flu shots?

U.S. employees may be forced to get flu shots as the nation faces a swine flu pandemic, if the shots are job-related and a business necessity, experts say.

Healthcare providers most likely can force employees to roll up their sleeves, employment lawyer Andrew Golub of Dow Golub Remels & Beverly in Houston, tells the Houston Chronicle.

Such employers can argue they have an overriding public health interest, coupled with a legitimate business interest, in requiring the shots, employment lawyer Sean Becker of the Vinson & Elkins law firm says.

But hospitals would need to consider exceptions for employees who can't have the shots, he says.

New York requires most healthcare workers to get flu shots. And California requires employers to protect workers from airborne diseases such as the flu by providing respirators and flu shots.

But the answer isn't so definitive to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency whose goal is ending employment discrimination, especially if an employee isn't involved with direct patient contact, EEOC attorney Jim Sacher tells the newspaper.

He says it would be hard for an employer to argue it's a matter of public safety for a billing clerk to get the shot.