In one of the last sessions of the year 2019, the New Jersey legislature passed a law providing the state’s health employers with wide latitude for requiring that their employees get annual influenza vaccinations. Health care facilities including general or specialized hospitals, nursing homes and home health care agencies can now point to a law requiring them to establish and implement an annual flu vaccination program, and under the new bill’s language it will be much more difficult for employees who do not wish to receive the vaccination to qualify for exemptions.
The new law requires each facility to offer either on-site or off-site influenza vaccinations to each of their employees and to require that each health care worker employee receive that immunization each year. Though employees are permitted to get their vaccinations outside of their employer-provided vaccination program, those who do so are required to provide proof that they were immunized elsewhere, including the lot number of the vaccination received. More importantly, the only exemption being provided to employees regarding the vaccination is for those who can provide proof of a medical condition that contraindicates them receiving the vaccine as approved by the immunization practices outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For the health care facilities, the new law means that they are now required to keep records of both the number of vaccinations that have been received by employees and the number of employees that have medical exemptions, and report this data to the Department of Health in order to ensure that the vaccination percentage rate of their workforce is appropriate. The facilities are also required to provide their employees with an educational program about the importance of influenza control measures and vaccinations, and to require any employee who doesn’t receive the vaccination to wear a surgical or procedural mask when coming into contact with patients or entering any common areas within the facility. Alternatively, those employees are to be removed from roles that put them in direct contact with patients, though they may not be terminated or have their wages reduced as a result.
The new law is silent on how employers are to treat religious objections to flu vaccinations. The Law Against Discrimination requires that all employers must reasonably accommodate sincerely-held religious objections to extent that it does not cause undue hardship. The new law now defines the wearing of a surgical or protective mask to be such a reasonable accommodation, and therefore, there should be no legitimate reason why an employer should refuse to accommodate persons with sincerely-held religious objections. If your job is being threatened due to your objection to the flu vaccination, feel free to call us for a free initial consultation.