As the COVID-19 vaccines continue to roll out, employers may be considering whether to provide, encourage, or otherwise adopt policies regarding vaccination of their employees. One question employers should consider is, if an employee has an adverse reaction to the vaccine, will the employers be responsible for medical treatment and/or disability benefits for time missed from work under workers’ compensation?
In the case of Monette v. Manatee Memorial Hospital, 579 So.2d 195 (Fla. 1st DCA 1991), the claimant worked at a hospital and had an adverse reaction to a flu shot. The employer offered it to its employees for free, and it was voluntary. The 1st DCA held that the adverse reaction was compensable. It stressed that it was “undisputed that the flu vaccine was administered to claimant by a hospital employee, in the hospital emergency room, during claimant's normal work shift. The circumstances of this case indicate that the allergic reaction claimant experienced flowed as a natural consequence of her employment.” Id. at 197.
The court also said the adverse reaction would likely would be compensable under the personal comfort doctrine, noting that “[b]y availing herself of the offered flu shot, claimant's effort to avoid illness that would impair her work performance is incidental to her employment….[and that] an employer derives a benefit from maintaining the health of employees in much the same fashion as an employer is benefited by improved employee morale under the personal comfort doctrine.” Id.
Therefore, the legal determination of compensability in such cases will likely depend on the factual details of the “when, where, how, and by whom” the vaccines are administered. As always, there will likely not be a one size fits all answer for every case, but employers should consider the benefits as well as the risk of compensable injuries resulting from providing or requesting their employees to receive vaccines.