EEOC sues Saint Thomas Health over mandatory flu shot policy

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit against Nashville, Tenn.-based Saint Thomas Health Sept. 28, alleging Murfreesboro, Tenn.-based Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital violated federal law by ordering an employee to receive a flu shot despite his religious beliefs.

Saint Thomas Health requires all workers to receive an annual flu shot, which includes employees from TouchPoint Support Services — one of the Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital's food and environmental services providers, according to the EEOC.

In 2013 and 2014, Saint Thomas Health allowed the TouchPoint employee at the center of the lawsuit to wear a protective mask, instead of receiving a flu shot, due to his religious beliefs. When the employee requested to again forego the flu shot in 2015, Saint Thomas Health turned down his request and fired the employee after he refused to get vaccinated, according to the EEOC.

"For several years, [Saint Thomas Health] accommodated the employee's religious belief," Delner Franklin-Thomas, director of the EEOC's Memphis District Office, said in the press release. "Then, [Saint Thomas Health] refused to accommodate his religious belief. An employer should not force an employee to choose between employment and his religious belief unless doing so would cause an undue hardship to the employer."

Becker's Hospital Review reached out to St. Louis-based Ascension, which owns Saint Thomas Health, for comment on the suit and will update the article as more information becomes available.  

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