Hospital sued for discriminating against job applicant who refused flu shot

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Personal finance reporter

A federal anti-discrimination agency is suing a Michigan hospital for rescinding a job offer after the job applicant refused to get a flu shot because it was against her religion.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit against Owosso-based Memorial Healthcare, saying that the hospital violated the civil rights of a woman who applied for a job with the hospital but had the offer rescinded after she refused a flu shot, the EEOC announced Wednesday.

The case comes as a particularly harsh flu season is ravaging Americans’ health — costing both lives and money. Health officials expect more than 700,000 hospitalizations during this year’s flu season, the Centers for Disease Control said in early February. One estimate released Wednesday predicted that this year’s flu would cost businesses billions of dollars.

Health officials have urged the public to get vaccinated, and while some employers require them, some religions prohibit the shots, and the EEOC has “taken an aggressive stance” against mandatory shots, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

Last month a North Carolina hospital paid $89,000 to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit after firing three workers who requested religious exemptions to flu shots.

”As a follower of Jesus Christ, she cannot inject or ingest foreign substances in her body and must rely on natural methods for health.”

In the Michigan case, a woman applied for a medical transcriptionist job with the hospital in 2016. The job would have involved working at home. The hospital offered her the job, but rescinded the offer after Bair said getting a flu shot — which the hospital requires of all of its employees during flu season — was against her religion. Bair offered to wear a mask as a substitute for getting the shot.

The EEOC lawsuit doesn’t specify Bair’s exact religion, but says, “Bair has a sincerely-held religious belief that, as a follower of Jesus Christ, she cannot inject or ingest foreign substances in her body and must rely on natural methods for health.”

Hospital officials told Bair wearing a mask wouldn’t be sufficient, even though the hospital policy allows masks for workers who can’t have flu shots for medical reasons, according to the EEOC complaint. The EEOC lawsuit seeks unspecified compensation for Bair, including back pay with interest.

A spokeswoman for Memorial Healthcare did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

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