Workers in New Jersey expect certain rights to be maintained and protected by employers and laws related to the workplace. For one New Jersey nurse, refusal to accept a flu shot resulted in both termination and the loss of unemployment benefits. A later court, however, ruled in favor of the nurse, stating her employee rights had been violated.
The case illustrates how employee rights extend beyond the workplace itself. After the nurse was fired, a Department of Labor board denied her unemployment benefits, stating that the nurse engaged in misconduct in the workplace by refusing to accept a flu shot. Since the nurse was terminated due to what the board called work-related misconduct, her benefits were denied.
According to reports, the hospital in question implemented a policy requiring every employee to have a flu vaccine. Individuals who could not accept the vaccine for religious or medical reasons could opt out of the program. However, they had to provide a reason and appropriate documentation as well as agree to wear a mask when working.
The nurse in this case opted out of the vaccine program for secular reasons. She did agree to wear a mask, however. Because she did not provide documentation of a religious or medical reason for not accepting the vaccine, she was terminated.
An appellate court ruled that the hospital's policy to only allow employees to opt out with a religious or medical reason violated the nurse's rights. The court said that the denial of unemployment benefits violated the nurse's First Amendment rights because the decision was based on what the court referred to as the hospital's religion-based policy.
Employees and employers in New Jersey should be aware of how policies and workplace procedures relate to federal and state laws. Employees who are fired should also understand that their rights as workers don't necessarily end because employment did.
U.S. New & World Report, "NJ court rules nurse unfairly denied unemployment benefits after firing over vaccine refusal," David Porter, June 5, 2014