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By May 2, 2016Blog

The Kansas Court of Appeals has denied a hospital worker, who was terminated for objecting to receive a flu vaccine, unemployment benefits.

According to the Topeka Capital-Journal the appeals panel said the terminated employee had a duty to the hospital to either get the vaccination or meet the applicable exemptions. The ruling said the employee’s failure to comply amounted to job-related misconduct “and thus disqualified her for unemployment benefits.”

The case stems from an emergency department clerk at McPherson Hospital in McPherson, Kansas named Debra Rhodenbaugh. Rhodenbaugh had been with the hospital for three years when, in 2013, it was announced that employees would be required to receive a vaccination “in an effort to limit exposure and transmission of the influenza virus.”

Justin Wingerter has more details.

The hospital allowed for religious and medical exceptions. Rhodenbaugh chose the second, sending the hospital a note from her doctor stating she “prefers to defer flu shot at this time.” The hospital said the note didn’t qualify as a medical exception. Rhodenbaugh then sent a detailed letter explaining her reasons for not wanting a flu shot.

Two months after the hospital’s policy went into effect and two days after Rhodenbaugh sent her letter, she was fired from her job at McPherson Hospital. When she began receiving unemployment benefits, the hospital appealed to the Kansas Employment Security Board of Review, which ruled she wasn’t eligible for unemployment benefits.

The case worked itself through the Kansas appeals system until it arrived at the Kansas Court of Appeals. A three judge panel unanimously denied the benefits saying, “Rhodenbaugh owed a duty to the hospital to follow the safety rule by either receiving the flu vaccine or meeting the applicable exemptions. Her failure to comply with the rule met the statutory definition of job-related misconduct and thus disqualified her for unemployment benefits.”

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