When your religious beliefs don’t match your boss’s it can sometimes create conflicts in the work place. But those conflicts don’t just arise between major faiths. Sometimes a seemingly small difference, like a religious objection to a flu shot, can result in religious discrimination, or even cost you your job. Find out what you can do when that happens.
In this blog I will review EEOC v Memorial Healthcare, Case No. 2:18-cv-10523, and the Title VII protections against religious discrimination. I will examine whether a religious objection to a flu shot could lead to an employment discrimination claim, and what reasonable religious accommodations may include.
Health Care Company Revokes Employment Offer Over Religious Objection to a Flu Shot
Yvonne Blair was all set to start working as a medical transcriptionist at Memorial Healthcare in Owosso, Michigan. The health care company had extended her an employment offer for a position that would eventually allow her to work from home, creating medical records for the facility.
But then the health care company learned that Yvonne had a religious objection to a flu shot or spray. It revoked its offer of employment, refusing to hire Yvonne even when she offered to wear a mask in the office instead. The company already had a policy in place authorizing the use of masks for employees who were medically unable to take a vaccine.
Yvonne filed a complaint for religious discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). After pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process failed, the EEOC filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan (Case No. 2:18-cv-10523).
Title VII Protects Against Religious Discrimination, Big and Small
The EEOC was enforcing Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The law protects employees against discrimination based on a number of traits, including religion. It makes it illegal for an employer to base employment decisions on a person’s affiliation with an organized religion or holding of a sincerely held religious, ethical, or moral belief. It applies to any aspect of employment – from hiring and firing, to job assignments, promotions, and training.
Religious discrimination protections work much in the same way as the American with Disabilities Act. A person with a religious objection to a policy or practice in the workplace can request reasonable accommodation for their beliefs or practices. The employer must make reasonable adjustments to the working environment to allow the employee to practice her religion as long as doing so will have a minimal burden on the company’s business operations. Common religious accommodations include:
- Flexible scheduling to avoid working on a person’s holy day
- Voluntarily swapping assignments to avoid contact with religiously offensive products (like beef or pork)
- Exceptions to the company dress code for religious head coverings
- Use of beard nets to cover religious facial hair in food preparation
In Yvonne Blair’s case, she had a religious objection to a flu shot policy at the health care facility. She requested a religious accommodation, exempting her from the mandatory influenza vaccination and offering instead to wear a mask whenever she was in the office. The fact that the facility already had a mask policy for those medically unable to take vaccines suggested this was a reasonable adjustment to normal office policy.
The EEOC’s complaint was recently filed in federal district court, so there is no court decision on the issue as of yet. However, the complaint lays out Blair’s religious objection, request for accommodation, and the revocation of an employment offer. Unless the health care company puts forward a strong defense, she will likely be able to be compensated for its illegal employment decision based on Blair’s religious belief.
Religious discrimination for sincerely held religious beliefs may not get as much press as racial discrimination or sexual harassment, but it can be just as devastating for its victims. When a religious objection to a flu shot or other office policy costs you your job, you need an experienced workplace discrimination attorney to help you work through possible accommodations, negotiate with your employer, and help you file a complaint with the EEOC or in federal court.
At Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, we have experienced employment discrimination attorneys who can help. If you face religious discrimination at work, contact Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, today explore your options and protect your religious freedom.