Employer within rights to require hep A vaccine
Question: I work at Big City Diner, and they are requesting mandatory hepatitis A vaccination to be employed with them.
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Question: I work at Big City Diner, and they are requesting mandatory hepatitis A vaccination to be employed with them. It must be done by Thursday or I will be subject to termination. I was wondering whether this is a lawful act, or do I have any rights to not take the hepatitis A vaccination at this time?
Answer: Yes, private employers generally can require employees to be vaccinated as a condition of employment, subject to certain exceptions, said Ryan E. Sanada, director of legal and government affairs for the Hawaii Employers Council.
The answer to your second question also could be yes, if you are entitled to such an exemption, he said. For example, an employee could be entitled to opt out due to a disability or a religious reason. In addition, employers whose workers are covered by collective bargaining agreements (union contracts) might have to bargain over the impact of such a mandate, Sanada said.
The nonprofit Hawaii Employers Council, which advises member-businesses about labor law and other human-resources issues, has fielded numerous calls about the legality of mandatory vaccines over the past few weeks. “This is the No. 1 question that we’ve been getting lately. A lot of food service companies are considering it,” he said.
The council put together an FAQ on the subject, “Hepatitis A and the Workplace,” which you can read at 808ne.ws/HECFAQ. It goes into detail on the basics we’ve covered, affirming the legality of requiring a hep A vaccine as long as exceptions are allowed, but also notes that employers may prefer to encourage rather than require that workers be vaccinated, mirroring the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s informal advice regarding flu shots several years ago.
You indicated during a follow-up phone call that you did not fall into any of the exemption categories and were still deciding whether to be immunized against hepatitis A, which the Hawaii Department of Health has broadly recommended amid an outbreak of the contagious liver disease that has sickened 228 people.
The Health Department has identified tainted raw scallops served at Genki Sushi restaurants on Oahu and Kauai as the likely source of the outbreak; the restaurant chain has been shut down since Aug. 15 and is being sued.
No Big City Diner employee has been diagnosed with hep A as of Wednesday, according to the Health Department, which publicizes food-service operations where workers have tested positive.
The six-restaurant chain obviously wants to keep it that way, for the good of customers, employees and the overall operation, said Kiinani Dodge, a human resources director in the company’s corporate office in Waipahu. The company consulted with the Hawaii Employers Council before making hep A vaccination a condition of employment, “much like having a clear TB test,” she said.
Reasonable accommodation would be provided to workers with allowable reasons to opt out, as the law requires, Dodge said. She has heard no objections directly from employees unhappy about the requirement.
“A lot of our employees don’t even need the shots — they were already vaccinated when they were children. For everyone else we are trying to make it as convenient as possible,” she said. “It’s about maintaining a safe and healthy environment for our customers and for our employees, too.”
Kokua Line also checked with the Hawaii Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, which said there are no labor laws specifically addressing vaccine requirements, and the state Department of Health, which deferred to the Hawaii Employers Council to answer this question because it involves a private employer and employee. The Health Department encourages Hawaii residents to be vaccinated against hepatitis A but does not require it.
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