4 Things to Know About Flu Shots and Work

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on October 06, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Flu season is upon us and it is time to talk shots. Whether you are for or against influenza vaccinations, you probably have a position. Neutrality does not seem to be an option when it comes to this topic.

Here are four basics about flu shots and employment to make the decision that will work for you this winter.

1. Mandatory Shot Policies

Employers may institute a mandatory flu shot policy. It is generally legal to adopt such a policy and in some cases, getting a flu shot may be a precondition for employment. Still, if you are an employer, you may want to talk to a local employment attorney to learn the specific rules surrounding such a policy. States are increasingly getting involved in this battle and bills mandating flu shots or supporting worker rights to refuse are under consideration around the country.

2. Workers May Be Fired for Flu Shot Refusal

Employees may be terminated for refusing a flu shot. Most American workers are at-will employees, meaning they can be fired for any or no reason. That includes refusing a mandatory flu shot. While your boss cannot physically force you to get vaccinated, employers may nonetheless let workers go for failing to follow company policy.

3. Mask Alternative May Not Do Much

If you refuse a flu shot and are not fired, you may be forced to wear a mask. Workers who have refused flu shots must wear a mask and gloves throughout the flu season at many workplaces. The restrictions most often apply in settings such as schools, daycare, and healthcare institutions. Last year, New York state passed a law requiring all healthcare workers who refused the flu shot to wear a face mask instead. The policy apparently prompted many who had refused the shot in the past to submit to vaccination.

The Centers for Disease Control provides a list of precautions for healthcare workers to take during flu season. Wearing a mask is not one of them. Masks are mentioned in the appendix "additional information about influenza" and this is what the experts have to say about them:

"If worn properly, a facemask is meant to help block large-particle droplets, splashes, sprays or splatter that may contain germs (viruses and bacteria) from reaching your mouth and nose. Facemasks may also help reduce exposure of the wearer's saliva and respiratory secretions to others. While a facemask may be effective in blocking splashes and large-particle droplets, a facemask, by design, does not filter or block very small particles in the air that may be transmitted by coughs, sneezes or certain medical procedures."

4. Flu Shot Injury Settlements Outnumber Other Vaccines

The flu vaccine is the most dangerous vaccine in the US based on settled cases for injuries during a period studied in 2013. Out of 139 cases settled in the special "vaccine court" created by Congress in 1986, 70 cases were compensated and 42 of those were for the flu vaccine. In other words, more than half of the compensated cases were for injury or deaths related to the flu shot.

The Department of Justice periodically releases information on adjudicated settlements for various vaccines, which do not get litigated like other products. By law, drug makers are exempt from vaccine suits. Cases are adjudicated in the US Court of Federal Claims by the Office of Special Masters.

The Vaccine Program is a no-fault compensation program. Petitions are brought by or for people injured or killed due to certain compulsory childhood vaccines. In the words of the authority itself, "Congress intended that the Vaccine Program provide individuals a swift, flexible, and less adversarial alternative to the often costly and lengthy civil arena of traditional tort litigation."

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