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Preventing an Office Flu Epidemic; Mandating Employee Flu Shots

Flu Season
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Should employers be allowed to require their employees get the flu shot?

Flu season in the U.S. has struck early and, in many places, hard.

While flu normally doesn’t blanket the country until late January or February, it is already widespread in more than 40 states, with about 30 of them reporting some major hot spots.

The numbers in South Dakota, Minnehaha County and Sioux Falls change daily. It might be a long couple of months.

Also, the flu’s early arrival coincided with spikes in a variety of other viruses, including a childhood malady that mimics flu and a new norovirus that causes vomiting and diarrhea, or what is commonly known as “stomach flu.” So what people are calling the flu may, in fact, be something else.

There may be more of an overlap than we normally see. Hospitals are taking every precaution  to prevent the flu from spreading among patients, visitors and staff.

It’s not too late to get a flu shot.

It’s easy to forget about the flu and disease prevention, including simple steps such as handwashing. There’s also controversy over regulating how we stay healthy. How far can your employer go in preventing the flu and sickness?

According to, most of the mandatory vaccine policies are set up by healthcare employers, especially hospitals and doctors’ offices. I get that, it’s easy to see their goal.

As a general rule, most employers may institute a mandatory vaccine policy, and fire workers for not complying. That’s because most employment is at will. That means most employees can be fired for any reason at any time.

There are some exceptions, though. And they may come into play when it comes to mandatory vaccine policies: Employment Contract, Collective Bargaining Agreement or Anti-discrimination laws.

Most employers take less drastic steps in combating these seasonal viruses. For example, easing attendance policies, increasing “sick time,” encouraging ill workers to stay home, and allowing ill workers to work from home while sick are many ways employers can cut down on spreading sickness instead of forcing vaccinations.


Flu is a highly contagious illness and can be spread before the infected person begins showing symptoms. Is it reasonable to expect that hospital employees get a flu shot? Would it be reasonable for other employers to mandate their employees get a flu shot in order to obtain a healthy work force? Would it be reasonable to mandate that any employee in a job that requires interaction with a large number of others (teachers, public safety employees, retail workers, etc.) be vaccinated to prevent the spread of the flu? Let us know in the comments.

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