Friday, June 06, 2014

Religious Exemption From Vaccination Policy Requires Acceptance of Secular Reasons As Well

In Valent v. Board of Review, Department of Labor, (NJ App., June 5, 2014), the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division held that a nurse employed by a hospital was entitled to unemployment compensation after she was fired for refusing to obtain a flu vaccination as required by the hospital's policy.  The hospital policy allowed exemptions for religious or medical reasons, however here the nurse's objections were based on secular non-medical concerns.  The court wrote in part:
By exempting employees who can produce religion-based documentation, the employer's flu vaccination policy is clearly not exclusively driven by health-related concerns. The Board cannot therefore accept the policy as a proper basis to find appellant committed an act of insubordination of sufficient magnitude to render her disqualified for unemployment compensation benefits under N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(b)....
The religion exemption merely discriminates against an employee's right to refuse to be vaccinated based only on purely secular reasons.  Our Supreme Court has clearly cautioned that "[g]overnment may not, under the First Amendment, prefer one religion over another or religion over non-religion but must remain neutral on both scores.".... Under these circumstances, 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.
AP reports on the decision.