Health-Care Company Comes Under Fire for Mandating Its Employees to Get Flu Shots

(The Washington Post) -
(AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)

Did you get your flu shot yet? Hopefully so. Most people in the health profession agree it’s a good preventive measure, and even the Center for Disease Control says the vaccine can reduce one’s risk of getting the flu anywhere from 40 to 60 percent.

In fact, one health-care company is taking these preventive health benefits so seriously it is requiring employees to get a flu shot before Nov. 10. But this decision is running into opposition . . . and a lawsuit.

Essentia is a Minnesota-based health care provider that operates long-term facilities, hospitals and clinics and employs 15,000 staff members in four states. In September, the company rolled out a mandatory vaccination policy that requires all of their employees (as well as volunteers, medical students and vendors who work in their facilities) to get inoculated as “a condition of employment.” The company says that limited exemptions were allowed for religious or medical reasons.

“We learned from studying other successful institutions that . . . we needed to move to requiring the vaccination,” Essentia’s Dr. Rajesh Prabhu, an infectious disease specialist, said in this Star Tribune report. Workers in Minnesota’s health care industry are not mandated by the state to get flu vaccinations, although 18 other states do have this requirement.

But hold on. The move has been met with opposition by the company’s United Steelworker’s union, which filed a lawsuit on behalf of 2,000 of the company’s workers, claiming that some of its members were denied exemption requests even though they had “medical conditions or religious beliefs that make it impossible for them to receive the vaccine.” The local union’s president told the Star Tribune that “numerous” members are upset about the policy and that the company hasn’t made concessions to allow face masks or a mist spray in lieu of needles.

Many businesses — even those outside of the health-care industry — are struggling with the issue. Flu shots can help reduce the rate of sickness which could impact health insurance costs, absenteeism and employee productivity. However, not everyone’s convinced about their effectiveness and sometimes . . . well, they kind of hurt.

According to the Star Tribune article, one larger medical center in Minneapolis requires their employees to participate in the vaccination program, but they still have an option to decline in writing. Many other organizations are encouraging, but not requiring, vaccinations. Rick Fuentes, a spokesman for the Twin Cities-based Minnesota Nurses Association believes that voluntary programs work better.

“We’ve always worked with employers in their effort to promote participation,” he told the Star Tribune.