It’s not too late to get a flu shot, but should you – and can you require employees to be vaccinated?

Posted on in Education/Training

By Dorothy de Souza Guedes, VGM Education

An estimated 111 million workdays are lost each year due to the flu. That translates into billions of dollars in sick days and lost productivity, according to Flu season usually peaks in February: are you prepared for what this may mean for your business?

During flu season, it’s important to know the risk in your state and anywhere you may travel for business. Early in the 2015-2016 flu season, the top three states in influenza activity were Iowa, Oregon, and Rhode Island. By mid‑December, South Carolina reported high influenza-like illness activity, but there were no states with widespread influenza activity, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC provides FluView, an interactive tool that provides a weekly influenza surveillance report for the United States. This tool can help you to understand how bad the flu is in the areas you do business, but experts say to protect against the flu you’ll have to get a flu shot.

Why Vaccinate?

The CDC recommends that the best way to prevent the flu is with a flu vaccine. The CDC recommends everyone six months of age and older get a seasonal flu vaccine each year soon after it becomes available and by October if possible. But even if you haven’t gotten your flu shot it’s not too late: immunity from vaccination sets in after about two weeks.

A flu vaccine protects against the flu viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. Seasonal flu vaccines are designed to protect people against the influenza viruses most likely to spread and cause illness during an upcoming flu season, which typically peaks December through February in the United States. Although there is not a way to know how severe each year’s flu season will be, the CDC makes annual recommendations based on information gathered from around the world.

Flu isn’t just an inconvenience; it’s a killer: it’s estimated each year between 3,000 up to 49,000 people died due to flu-associated deaths in the United States. Most of these flu-related deaths occur in people age 65 and older. In death and mortality information, the CDC combines influenza and pneumonia as the eighth leading cause of death: 56,979 in 2013, the most recent year data is available.

Employees and Flu Shots

Many health care providers require employees to be vaccinated each season, but there is a movement to make illegal such employer‑mandated vaccinations. In Wisconsin legislation, SB 218, was introduced that would prohibit employers from discriminating against employees who refuse to be vaccinated against influenza.

Those in opposition to mandatory vaccinations argue such mandates may violate federal antidiscrimination laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of religion. This opposition to mandatory vaccination has led to numerous lawsuits. A North Carolina woman who worked as an activities director at a skilled nursing facility filed a wrongful termination lawsuit after she was fired in 2012 for refusing influenza vaccine for religious reasons. She has appealed a judgment in favor of the facility. In December, two social service agency workers filed a lawsuit after they were fired for refusing to get a flu shot for religious reasons.

If you’d like to request that employees be vaccinated to reduce the flu’s effect on your business, be sure to check state law changes that may make mandated flu shots illegal. Your state’s health care association is a good place to start for this information.

What You Should Know

Want to know more about influenza and earn CEUs? Recently updated with 2015-2016 flu season information, the VGMU Online Education course DMGT036 – Overview of Influenza includes detail about the three types of influenza, how influenza viruses change, and infection control measures related to influenza. Not yet a VGMU user? Contact Megan Kraft at 888-786-6628. provides a free Business/Employers Influenza Toolkit.

National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) offers Immunization Resources for the Workplace, including a checklist to educate employees about the flu.