“Can I be forced to take a flu shot or lose my hospital job?”

Question: Can I be forced to take the flu shot as an employee of a hospital? It has been made mandatory, or you lose your job.

Wilmington, North Carolina

Answer: Dear Thelma, your question is an important one, and one that many people all over are struggling with: how much do employers have a right to require of employees as a condition of employment?

Overall, the question is being decided this way: if you work in the medical field, your employer may make it a condition to your further employment. In fact, some states are considering making it a requirement for maintaining medical licenses for nurses, doctors and other health workers.

According to published reports, two respected and influential health groups – the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology and the Infectious Diseases Society of America – have recently called for mandatory flu shots for all health workers. These groups maintain that only about one half of healthcare workers take flu shots, and that voluntary “encouraging” of flu shots has not increased that percentage. Also, the spread of the flu is lowered when all health workers in a facility are vaccinated – it even reduces the number of deaths from flu. Also, mandatory flu shots should ensure that there will be enough healthy healthcare workers available to help the public in case of a catastrophic flu epidemic.

Others disagree. Reading the warning labels on flu shot bottles shows that taking a flu shot can cause serious complications, including bleeding, severe allergic reactions, temporary paralysis, seizures, inflammation of brain and spinal cord, dysfunction of nerves in the eyes, face and arms, shortness of breath and chest pain. Maybe half of healthcare workers do not get the flu shot because they are the ones who read the label on the flu shot bottles!

But if you think of it, healthcare workers have long ago accepted similar requirements, including both mandatory regular tuberculosis tests, and having to show proof of having had other vaccinations. 

The trend is strong: healthcare workers are being required to take flu shots in more and more hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices, as a condition of continued employment. Courts are upholding these requirements. Some states, like New York, are going further: considering making flu shots mandatory for nurses, doctors and other licensed health professionals to keep their state licenses.

In every case I have found, though, if you can show that taking a flu shot will inevitably result in a health problem for you, you are exempted.

I hope that assists you with what is not an easy decision. Thanks for writing in.

 Best, Al Sklover

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P.S.: If you would like to speak with me directly about this or other workplace-related subjects, I am available for 30-minute, 60-minute, or 120-minute telephone consultations. (Even 5-minute “Just One Question” calls). Just [click here.] Evenings and weekends can be accommodated.

© 2010 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

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