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Vaccination refusal disputes in Michigan and Kentucky

by | Jul 3, 2019

Recently, two different vaccine refusal disputes led to two different outcomes.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced a settlement has been reached in which Michigan’s Memorial Healthcare agreed to allow employees with religious objections to receiving the flu vaccine to wear a mask during flu season. The agency also agreed to pay $74,418 to the plaintiff, who was denied a job at the facility after she informed officials of her objection to the vaccine during the application process.

An employee or job applicant should not have to choose between their livelihood and their religious beliefs if there is a reasonable means of accommodating them. Here, the facility already allowed employees forgoing the flu vaccine for medical reasons to wear a mask instead. There is no reason why employees with sincere religious objections can’t be treated the same, as an EEOC press release emphasized:

“Employees should not have to check their religious beliefs at the workplace door,” said Dale Price, the EEOC attorney who handled the case. “The transcriptionist’s objection could have been easily accommodated by allowing her to use the mask option utilized by other employees. Nevertheless, Memorial’s revision of its policy is a welcome change that will provide broader accommodations for applicants and employees.”

Meanwhile, in another case I have been following, the Kentucky Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court’s ruling in favor of the Northern Kentucky Health Department’s exclusion of a high school student from school and extracurricular events during a chicken pox outbreak in light of his refusal on religious grounds to be vaccinated.

According to a Department press release, the court’s ruling quotes the U.S. Supreme Court saying: “Of paramount necessity, a community has the right to protect itself against an epidemic of disease which threatens the safety of its members.” The student’s attorneys reportedly plan to appeal to the Kentucky Supreme Court.

Earlier this year, New York ended its religious exemption from vaccination requirements for children to attend public schools. Several other state legislatures are also re-evaluating their exemptions in light of this year’s measles outbreak.