Hospital Worker Sakile Chenzira Fired For Refusing Flu Shot, Cites Veganism

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Flu shot: Vegan hospital worker Sakile Chenzira refused one and was fired.

More employers are requiring flu shots -- and firing workers who don't comply.

Indeed, workers across the country are resisting the drive to mandate the vaccine, as was reported by AOL Jobs and USA Today.

The workers are citing medical reasons like allergies and questions over the vaccine's efficacy, even though a recent study by The Lancet found the vaccine to be 59 percent effective. They are also making the choice amid a particularly brutal year for the flu; the percentage of people seeing health care providers for flu symptoms has stood at 5.6 percent for the past four weeks, as compared to 2.2 percent last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

But Sakile Chenzira, who worked as a customer service representative for the Cincinnati Children's Hospital until 2010, has introduced a new reason. Chenzira was fired 14 months ago after refusing to take a shot because, she said, her adherence to a vegan diet prohibited her from taking medicine that was contains egg products. She referred to her choice as one she made for "religious" reasons, reported the Ohio Employer's Law Blog.

Soon after she was terminated, Chenzira filed suit on religious discrimination. And in an opinion issued before the end-of-year recess, a U.S. District Court in Ohio said Chenzira's argument is worth considering.

More:Mandatory Flu Shot Or You're Fired


"The court finds it plausible that [Chenzira] could subscribe to veganism with a sincerity equating that of traditional religious views," Judge S. Arthur Spiegel wrote.

That means that Chenzira's case will continue, and the question of whether her veganism rises to the crucial level of a "sincerely held religious belief" is worth exploring in court. The question of whether Chenzira can continue her employment is open.

%VIRTUAL-hiringNow-healthcare%Crucial to deciding whether Chenzira should be protected by religious discrimination laws is her motivation for a vegan diet, AOL Jobs employment law expert Donna Ballman said by email. The vegan rationale does not guarantee a worker job protection when refusing a shot requirement, but it might apply.

"A person who practices veganism for moral reasons may be protected against religious discrimination, where a person who practices veganism for health or environmental reasons may not be protected," Ballman wrote in her book, Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired.

There is a precedent for workers claiming veganism as a religious belief. In 2002, Jerold Freedman made an argument similar to Chenzira's in refusing a mumps vaccine. He had been hired by the Kaiser Health Foundation to work as a computer contractor at a Kaiser pharmaceutical warehouse in Southern California. Freedman said that he couldn't comply with a mandate to take a mumps vaccine because the vaccine was grown in chicken embryos.

A California Appeals Court dismissed his lawsuit, though, saying "veganism is not a 'religious creed.' "

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