The U.S. is in the midst of a vaccine debate. With anti-vaxxers convinced that the lifesaving inoculations could create more illnesses and more problems, fewer people are getting their routine shots. While this can present legal issues in terms of human rights infringement (i.e., can the government force you to vaccinate if you don’t want to be vaccinated?), it can also easily translate to your job. Each state has its own laws and rules regarding workers compensation, and Maryland is no different. Let’s answer some FAQ about infectious diseases in the workplace.
I caught the flu. Can my employer fire me just because I am sick?
This is a nuanced question; employers are allowed to (and many do) fire you for missing work, but it depends on the seriousness of your symptoms. If you’re violently ill and are experiencing severe, non-typical health complications, it may be illegal for your employer to go that far. Generally speaking, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protects you by stating employers may not fire employees for missing 12 weeks or less of work due to serious illness. The flu may count as a serious health condition if the following occur:
- It prevents you from being able to complete essential functions of your job for four or more consecutive calendar days
- It causes you to visit a healthcare provider at least twice, and the visits must be in person and not over the phone follow-ups
- It requires you to receive continued treatment
You almost definitely won’t be able to claim workers compensation if you contracted the flu at your place of business; although 74% of states offer workers comp coverage, you’d have to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that your employer was responsible, and that’s almost always impossible to do.
Can my employer fire me for not getting myself a flu shot or vaccination?
The answer to this question depends on where you work. If you’ve accepted a position that makes vaccination a job requirement (such as that of a nurse or other medical industry role), your employer is well within their right to fire you for failing to comply. Such environments often put you into contact with people who have weakened immune systems and are therefore at higher risk to contract the illness; the CDC estimates that approximately 56,000 flu-related deaths have occurred since 2010, and your employer will undoubtedly not want you adding to that number as a health professional.
If you’re unsure about your legal rights regarding infectious disease and vaccination at your place of work, it’s best to discuss the situation with your employer ahead of time. If at any point you feel your rights have been violated, contact a lawyer for clarification.