A New Jersey court ruled in favor of the nurse who was denied her unemployment benefits after she refused to take a flu shot.
The hospital, where the plaintiff was working in 2011, required all employees to have a flu shot. Only those who have religious or medical reasons were exempted to the rule. Those who refused to take the shot were required to wear a mask at all times, as well as provide documentation and sign the form.
June Valent was one of the nurses who refused to receive a flu shot, but failed to cite any medical or religious reasons. She did, however, agreed to wear a mask. Shortly after, the hospital administration terminated her and cited her refusal to take the shot as the reason. She was also deemed disqualified to claim her unemployment benefits after the Department of Labor conducted a review of her case. The board who looked into her case concluded her refusal to receive a flu shot was considered a work-related misconduct.
However, the appellate court thought that the hospital did a violation of Valent's freedom of expression.
"By denying appellant's application to receive unemployment benefits based only on her unwillingness to submit to the employer's religion-based policy, the Board violated appellant's rights under the First Amendment," the panel wrote, as reported by Businessweek.
The state of New Jersey did not initially require its hospitals to have all their employees receive a flu shot. But recently, there is an increase in the number of hospitals having this rule, as their first line of protection against the flu.
Aline Holmes, senior vice president of clinical affairs of the New Jersey Hospital Association, worried that hospitals were caught in the cross-fire of regulations between the regulators and the judicial system.
"With this decision, we worry that hospitals and other health care providers are receiving conflicting messages from regulators and the judicial system when, in fact, our bottom-line goal is simply to protect patients during flu season," Holmes said in a statement, quoted by the Associated Press.