A resolution adopted by the Nurse Alliance Leadership Council of SEIU Healthcare opposing mandatory flu vaccine and masking policies may add another challenge to healthcare employers seeking to implement such requirements. Other unions representing healthcare workers have taken similar positions. This opposition from labor unions is at odds with the efforts of regulators in many states to increase the percentage of healthcare workers who receive the flu vaccine. For example, in Massachusetts, the Department of Public Health set a 90% flu vaccination coverage rate as the target for acute care hospitals during the 2012-2013 flu season.
The SEIU has also filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the state of Rhode Island’s requirement that healthcare workers be vaccinated. (While many states require hospitals to offer flu vaccines to their employees, only Rhode Island requires that healthcare workers be vaccinated.)
Mandatory flu vaccination and masking programs have also been the subject of recent litigation regarding religious accommodations and employer bargaining obligations under the National Labor Relations Act. In addition, the EEOC has recently weighed in on employers’ rights to make reasonable inquiries about an employee’s religious beliefs when the employee objects to the vaccination on religious grounds. These programs can also raise accommodation issues under state and federal disability discrimination laws. The SEIU’s opposition to mandatory flu vaccination and masking programs for healthcare workers is one more issue for employers to address when developing these programs.