Last month, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals held that an employer who fired an employee for refusing to get the measles vaccination did not violate the law. The court held that the employee’s refusal to get vaccinated was not a disability that fell within the protection of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and therefore firing the employee was not a violation of the ADA.
The employee was a health-care aid who cared for the disabled. Because of her close contact with many patients, her employer required her to get all of the standards vaccinations. She refused, stating that she had “many allergies and chemical sensitivities” to the measles vaccine. Her employer fired her, and she sued, claiming that the employer discriminated against her for exercising her rights under the ADA and Minnesota law.
The judge tossed the lawsuit out of court, holding that employees who fail to get vaccinated are not considered disabled under the ADA. Nor did the employee show that she suffered a serious reaction to vaccines that might render her claim protectable under the ADA. She had never been hospitalized due to a vaccination and had not shown that she suffered more than the “garden-variety allergies” from vaccines. The court also held that there was a strong justification for the employer’s policy as it was necessary for stopping the spread of deadly diseases.
While this decision does not apply to Illinois employees, as the 8th Circuit’s decisions do not bind Illinois courts, it nonetheless is a positive signal for employers. After years of seemingly ever-expanding liability under the ADA, in recent years courts have narrowed the definition of a disability under the law, finding that things like obesity and now not being vaccinated do not constitute disabilities. With that said, the ADA is still one of the most common laws employees use to sue their employers. Therefore, employers need to have clear policies in place for employees who have medical conditions. Contact us if you would like advice on creating such a policy.