Question: Because of increased concerns of employee health and safety due to the pandemic, can I require my employees to get the flu vaccine?

Answer:  Employers in industries like healthcare and education must follow specific requirements relating to flu vaccine mandates.  All other employers are obligated to provide a safe and healthy workplace.  However, if an employer mandates flu vaccines for all employees, it must be prepared to address employees who refuse to get the vaccine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently published its findings and recommendations on immunizations for the 2020-2021 flu season stating that getting the flu vaccine this fall is more important than ever to protect everyone from the flu and reduce the strain on the healthcare system due to COVID-19. As such, it is understandable that an employer would consider mandating flu vaccines for all of its employees.  However, employers must balance their obligations to keep the workplace safe with their obligations to prevent discrimination under federal and California law.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), an employer must reasonably accommodate an employee with a disability if the person is otherwise qualified to safely perform all of the essential functions of the position, and the accommodation would not impose an undue hardship on the employer.  Likewise, an employer must reasonably accommodate sincerely held religious practices and beliefs that may conflict with workplace rules, as long as the religious practices and beliefs do not impose an undue hardship on the employer.

If an employer has a policy mandating the flu vaccine, and an employee refuses to get the vaccine because of a disability that would render the flu vaccine unsafe, or because of a sincerely held religious belief that prohibits vaccines, the employer cannot just terminate the employee for failing to comply with its policy. The employer must engage in the interactive process with the employee to try to find a reasonable accommodation that would allow the employee to continue to work without getting the vaccine.  Employers can ask employees for supporting documentation, like a doctor’s note, or information related to their refusal to get the vaccine.

Possible accommodations include imposing alternative requirements on the employee such as mask wearing, having the employee work remotely if feasible for the employee’s job duties, or alternate schedules or assignments for the employee to limit the risk and spread of infection.

As an alternative to mandating flu vaccines, employers may instead encourage employees to get the flu vaccine by providing information on vaccination benefits, offering scheduling flexibility to allow employees time to receive the vaccine, offering to pay employees for the time spent and cost of getting the vaccine, or hosting an on-site vaccination clinic.  Employers should implement other controls to protect workers and reduce the transmission of the seasonal flu virus in the workplace, including encouraging sick workers to stay home, promoting hand hygiene and cough etiquette, and keeping the workplace clean.

If an employer is asking employees for any medical information like proof of immunization or a doctor’s note regarding flu vaccine restrictions, it must ensure the privacy of this information keeping it in a secure location, separate from the employee’s personnel file, accessible only to designated staff members.

For more information on the CDC and EEOC recommendations, visit: