We are going through difficult times. The pandemic continues and many throughout the country are getting the vaccine to help reduce the risk of contracting and potentially spreading COVID-19. The question of whether or not a nurse or other medical professional could face negative consequences at work for refusing the vaccine is not a novel one. This question has been present before, with medical professionals choosing not to get other vaccines. One notable example: the flu vaccine.
So what happens when a nurse says “no thanks” to getting the vaccine? Can their employer choose to give them the pink slip? The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) supports the fact that workers, like nurses, have the right to refuse a vaccine due to religious or medical reasons. Federal laws offer protection. Civil laws can serve to protect those who refuse due to religious reasons while the Americans with Disabilities Act can offer protection to those who have a medical reason for not getting the vaccine.
Some hospitals have policies that serve to offer protection to patients and others while still allowing those who refuse the vaccine to continue their work. This can include a requirement to wear a mask. Others, like the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, will provide those who do not want to get the flu vaccine two weeks of unpaid leave to “think about it.” The hospital representative states it will not allow those who decide against the vaccine to work in patient care.
It is important to note that courts have supported the use of religious and medical exemptions to the flu vaccine in previous cases. However, these cases did not involve policies used for the novel coronavirus during a pandemic. As a result, it is likely that hospitals and other employees that require the vaccination will face a legal challenge. We will watch for these cases and provide updates as they become available.