The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced Monday that it is suing a health system for not granting accommodations to six employees who objected to its flu vaccination policy on religious grounds.
Saint Vincent Health Center, which owns and operates a hospital in Erie, PA, as well as other facilities, violated federal law when it fired the workers instead of accommodating them, the EEOC charged in its lawsuit.
The health center implemented a policy mandating flu vaccination for all employees in October 2013, according to the complaint, but employees could seek exemptions for medical or religious reasons. Those who were exempted from vaccination were required to wear face masks while having contact with patients during flu season, according to the policy.
From October 2013 to January 2014, according to the EEOC, six employees requested religious exemptions from vaccination, and the health center denied their requests. When the employees continued to refuse the vaccine based on their religious beliefs, their employment was terminated. During this same time period, however, the health center granted 14 vaccination exemption requests based on medical reasons, the lawsuit alleges.
The EEOC said it filed suit after trying to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
“Absent proof establishing an undue hardship, federal law requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodations for sincerely held employee religious beliefs, even if some may consider those beliefs idiosyncratic,” said EEOC Philadelphia Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence. “Title VII reflects our society’s belief that the conscience of the individual should be respected and that employers should avoid forcing workers to choose between keeping their jobs and adhering to their faith.”