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Would You Fire Someone for Refusing to Get a Flu Shot?

Some Michigan hospitals are making flu shots and other vaccines mandatory for employees.

The flu shot or the pink slip? This year that will be the choice for some Michigan health care workers.

Beaumont Health System in Royal Oak, Michigan, and Munson Healthcare in Traverse City are requiring shots, which the American Hospital Association recommends. In 2010, the Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System mandated shots or masks, and 90 percent of workers complied.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has for years advised shots for U.S. health care workers, but just 62 percent of workers actually get them. And, in January, Karen Bashista, a 61-year-old registered nurse, was fired for refusing the shots, reports The Detroit News.

"For an employer to use a vaccine to determine whether or not someone should work there, in my opinion, is wrong," Bashista, who now works in home health care, told the newspaper. "Vaccines are potentially dangerous to people."

She chose not to get the shot for religious reasons (she submitted a letter of support from her minister) and because she didn't know how it would affect her; her mother had a bad reaction to a flu shot, she says. She was fired for misconduct and for failing to follow a mandatory work requirement.

She plans to sue the hospital.

Bashista wasn't given the choice to have the shot or wear a mask. Dr. Lakshmi Halasyamani, chief medical officer for the three-hospital Saint Joseph Mercy Health System where Bashista worked, said the mask option wasn't offered because monitoring it would become a huge management issue.

The issue of whether workers should be forced to accept shots or be fired is so big that it has its own lobbying groups, among them the HealthCare Professionals for Vaccine Choice and Michigan Opposing Mandatory Vaccines. The groups have met with five state lawmakers already.

At the moment, there's not much employees can do but offer up their arms or lose their jobs.

Said lawyer Gary Jaburg: "As a citizen, I'm offended by the idea of employers being able to tell their employees these types of things. As an attorney, I'm afraid to say it's probably legal."

Last updated: Sep 1, 2011


Inc. contributing editor Courtney Rubin was for five years a London-based staff writer for People magazine. Rubin, a former senior writer for Washingtonian magazine, has written for the New York Times magazine, Time, Marie Claire, and other publications. She is the author of The Weight-Loss Diaries.

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