In the midst of a global pandemic, and with flu season around the corner, employers are struggling to find ways to keep the workplace healthy and safe.
Health officials are warning that a flu outbreak, coupled with COVID-19, could strain medical resources and put populations at risk. So, is it reasonable for employers to enforce mandatory flu shots in the workplace?
While employers can argue that mandatory vaccinations are in the best interest of employees, it remains an issue that can be met with controversy and concern.
Is it legal?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not require seasonal and H1N1 vaccinations for workers, but employers can. At first glance, mandatory flu shots may seem reasonable, particularly during a pandemic. But human resource and legal experts warn it may not be so clear-cut.
Enforcing mandatory flu vaccinations could lead to employee objections stemming from religious beliefs, pre-existing health conditions and lifestyle choices. Those against a mandatory flu vaccination policy could even be pushed to take legal action under the Equal Employment Opportunity Act.
Although it may be considered too risky to enforce mandatory flu shots, this doesn’t mean that employers are barred from encouraging employees to get vaccinated.
“We advise employers to seek legal advice before making a flu shot mandatory,” said Randy Woehl, director of Bukaty HR Consulting &Training. “It’s always better to use the carrot rather than the stick when trying to gain employee acceptance on a controversial topic.”
In fact, there are several ways to promote and encourage flu shots in the workplace without making them mandatory.
By making flu shots accessible, employers increase the likelihood of employees getting vaccinated. Onsite flu shot clinics eliminate the hassle of making an appointment outside of work time. For groups with 50-plus onsite employees, vendors often will coordinate with a group health insurance carrier to arrange a flu shot program at no expense to the company or employees.
Small rewards can also incent employees to get vaccinated. Prizes, a small monthly premium reduction and team participation parties are other ways of encouraging employees to get their flu shot. If employees can earn a reward for getting vaccinated, they are more likely to take action.
A simple way of encouraging employees to get vaccinated is educating them on the benefits. Not only does a flu shot reduce the chance of getting sick, it can also free up limited medical and hospital resources needed to treat patients suffering from COVID-19.
Where to get vaccinated
October and November are the ideal times to get vaccinated. Flu activity peaks between December and February. Most health insurance plans cover the cost of flu shots when using an in-network provider. It’s always best to confirm with your benefit consultant or insurance carrier before setting an appointment. Easily accessible flu shot locations include
- primary care providers,
- retail clinics, and
- local health departments.