November 07, 2015
Three employees of a social services agency in Burlington Township have been suspended from their jobs without pay after refusing to take flu shots or wear surgical masks, both in violation of their company's new flu prevention protocols.
The three female employees of Lutheran Social Ministries – Megan Duncan, Alana Watson and Denise Mercurious – maintained their opposition to the mandatory vaccination and masks in a meeting with company officials Friday, according to NJ.com.
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All three women have been long-term employees of the agency, which operates two nursing homes, an adoption agency and several other health services statewide. Lutheran Social Ministries implemented the protocols for all employees as a measure to avoid infection of clients and cross-contamination among those with compromised immune systems.
In their meeting with agency officials, the women affirmed that they should not be forced to take the flu vaccine, a requirement that has been on rise at hospitals nationwide over the past two years, according to the American Hospitals Association, which supports the practice. The women, who work as accountants and billing specialists, objected to the surgical masks on grounds that they are embarrassing to wear and impractical given their responsibilities.
While the CDC and the New Jersey Department of Health both strongly recommend flu shots for all health care employees, the women in Burlington Township represent a growing trend of vaccine refusal among U.S. health sector workers that has sparked a series of lawsuits weighing employment rights against public health safety.
The three women, suspended for a week, have said that they expect to be fired at the end of the suspension unless the company changes its policy. The company has not confirmed what action it will take, but told the women they will be informed of the "next step" when they return to work November 16.