Employee mandatory flu shot policy provokes outrage — and a lawsuit

Share this content:
Essentia's mandatory vaccination policy was rolled out in September, with a Nov. 10 deadline for compliance.
Essentia's mandatory vaccination policy was rolled out in September, with a Nov. 10 deadline for compliance.

A Minnesota-based healthcare provider that operates long-term care facilities, hospitals and clinics is on the receiving end of a lawsuit slamming its mandatory influenza vaccination policy.

The suit, filed against Essentia Health on Oct. 20 by United Steelworkers Locals 9460 and 9349, argues that the provider told the union last month a flu shot would be mandatory for all employees.

Essentia later told workers a vaccination would be a “condition of employment” except in cases of religious or medical exemptions. Employees would be required to get a shot by Nov. 10; those who refused or failed to get vaccinated would be fired Nov. 20, the Star Tribune reported.

In the suit a registered nurse for the organization explained that she has “never tolerated vaccines well” and was skeptical of the shots' effectiveness.

“[If] I am required to get a flu shot in order to keep my job, and I suffer adverse consequences from the vaccine, no arbitrator's award will be able to undo the damage,” wrote Christina Bergman, RN.

The union, which represents around 2,000 Essentia workers, requested that deadline be moved back, and that the vaccines be made voluntary. When neither happened, the workers' group field a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. The union's lawsuit asks a court to prevent Essentia from terminating employees who don't comply with the policy until the NLRB grievance is resolved.

Essentia, which employs more than 12,000 people in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and Idaho, defended the vaccination policy in a statement to local media. Rajesh Prabhu, M.D., Essentia's patient quality and safety officer, said the organization currently has an employee vaccination rate of 82%, but sought to improve rates with a mandatory program.

“We didn't feel they would increase any further without some sort of mandatory policy,” Prabhu said.

The suit is still waiting to receive a hearing date. A representative for the Minnesota Nurses Association, which represents Essentia employees, told the Pioneer Press the group has a meeting scheduled for Nov. 7 to negotiate the policy.