Seasonal Issues Update – An Employee Refuses a Flu Shot Based on Veganism

By Rudman Winchell Attorney

An interesting decision has been issued in Ohio that addresses an employee’s right to decline a mandatory flu shot on the grounds that it violates her religious beliefs under Title VII.   The basis of her religion is that she is a vegan and she contends that the ingestion of a vaccine created from eggs would violate her ethical and religious beliefs.  The employer filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that veganism is not a religion that entitles her to protection under Title VII.    

The definition of religion for purposes of Title VII protection is as follows:  “religious practices [is defined] to include moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong which are sincerely held with the strength of religious views. … The fact that no religious group espouses such beliefs or the fact that the religious group to which the individual professes to belong may not accept such belief will not determine whether the belief is a religious belief of the employee or prospective employee.”  Based on this broad definition, the court in this case found that, at least initially, “it is plausible that Plaintiff could subscribe to veganism with a sincerity equating that of traditional religious views.”   Therefore, the claim was permitted to proceed.  This is not to say that the claim will survive a challenge once the evidence is developed or that being a vegan will ultimately meet the definition of religion from a legal perspective, but it does highlight how broad the definition can potentially be and raises the question of whether a flu shot can or should be mandatory in the first place.   

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