COVID-19 Injury Lawyers

Healthcare Employee Rights: Can a Frontline Worker Refuse the Vaccine?

Posted February 9, 2021

Because of employee rights protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and religious discrimination laws, when an employer creates a policy that mandates getting the COVID-19 vaccine, they must also offer reasonable accommodations for those who cannot, based upon a health reason or religious belief. But when a frontline worker, for example, a healthcare worker does not want to get the COVID-19 vaccine, can they refuse it?

Can a healthcare worker refuse the COVID-19 vaccine?

In an office setting or non-healthcare related field, the refusal of the COVID-19 vaccine would likely not be uncommon, especially for those who have concerns about side effects. But in a healthcare setting where mitigating the spread of COVID-19 is paramount, the healthcare employees’ right to refuse the vaccine becomes blurred.

In general, the law will follow the past precedent on vaccination policies–specifically the flu shot. Just like healthcare employers can require employees to be vaccinated for influenza, the idea is that employers can also mandate the COVID-19 vaccine. In addition, should the vaccine be a requirement for employee and patient safety, an employer can fire an employee who refuses the vaccine.

However, if an employee cannot have the vaccine as a result of a strongly held religious belief or a medical condition, he or she could sue for wrongful termination, especially in cases where reasonable accommodations were not attempted by the employer.

But healthcare workers should be aware–if the medical condition is not covered under the laws of the ADA, their claim for refusal will likely be rejected.

In addition, for those who refuse on secular reasons, there has been some, though limited success. In 2014, a nurse in New Jersey refused a flu shot which resulted in the loss of her benefits. An appellate court later ruled that the hospital violated her First Amendment rights.

Healthcare employees who are questioning their rights to refuse the COVID-19 vaccine need to take protected measures not only to protect their employment status but to protect those they care for.

Potential Accommodations for Refusal to Vaccinate

While there has been minimal legal attention given to those refusing the COVID-19 vaccine in the healthcare industry, there have been the reported “disappointments” by healthcare facilities when employees refuse to vaccinate.

But healthcare employees still have that right. Should you be unable to receive the vaccine, your employer may give reasonable accommodations such as:

  • Wearing a mask
  • Quarantine
  • Rotating job responsibilities

If an employer refuses to provide such accommodations, then you may have a legal case.

Healthcare Employee Rights: Can a Frontline Worker Refuse the Vaccine?

If you are a healthcare employee who is unable to receive the COVID-19 vaccine despite your employer’s mandate that you should receive it, know that you may be protected under the ADA or religious discrimination law.

Contact the COVID-19 Injury Lawyers today for a consultation of your case.

Posted in Employee Rights.