When we let it be known we were going to ACI in New York City this week, several friends expressed concern that we might finally lose the virus lottery and contract Covid-19. There does, indeed, seem to be a recent uptick in Covid cases. But we are vaccinated and boostered, plus no one gets that close to us anyway. We are big on what Nietzsche called the pathos of distance. We are even bigger on following the medical consensus and submitting to the latest jabs.
We don’t understand the skepticism or even outright antipathy toward vaccinations, no matter which ones. They are a blessing, not an incursion on our rights. If you want to see an actual incursion on civil rights, look halfway around the world and watch what a truly authoritarian country does to its population in the face of a pandemic. Severe Covid lockdowns happen in such a place because the country lacks an effective vaccine. Put another way, vaccines are liberating.
Still, on the home front, there is plenty of bellyaching about vaccine mandates. Our Twitter feed lately has been besieged with complaints about how soldiers have left the military as a result of vaccine mandates. But those numbers are quite small, soldiers are supposed to take orders, they are forced to endure a whole host of other vaccinations, and there is ample precedent for military vaccination requirements. Or have you never heard of George Washington and his efforts to prevent smallpox among his troops?
All of which is to say we have little sympathy for folks who lose their jobs because they refuse to get vaccinated. That is true even when those folks otherwise seem fine or even are our neighbors. Actually, come to think of it, if you live near us, please please get vaccinated.
In Brown v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 276 A.3d 322 (Pa. Comm. Ct. May 5, 2022), the plaintiff had been fired by her employer for refusing to get vaccinated against influenza. Mind you, it was not just any ordinary employer; it was the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), one of our region’s medical glories. In 2012, CHOP implemented a policy requiring all employees to receive an annual flu shot unless they had a medical or religious exemption. That policy makes sense (we’d get rid of the religious exemption, but that’s just us), given that the place of employment IS A HOSPITAL.
In 2017, CHOP told the plaintiff she needed to get her flu vaccine. She refused. Instead, she produced a one-page document titled “Advance Flu Directive” (ADV), which she printed from the Natural Solutions Foundation website. The ADV constituted neither a medical nor religious exemption. Consequently, CHOP terminated the plaintiff’s employment.
The plaintiff then filed for unemployment compensation benefits. Her filing was denied because her refusal to get the flu vaccine was deemed “a refusal to meet a reasonable condition if future employment.” The plaintiff, acting pro se, appealed.
The issue before the court was whether the plaintiff had engaged in “willful misconduct,” in which case she would be ineligible for unemployment compensation benefits. The court concluded that CHOP’s employee vaccine policy was a reasonable means to protect patient health. The plaintiff argued that if medical and religious exemptions applied, then the ADV, along with her “strong immune system,” should have been enough to stave off termination of unemployment.
The Brown court read the ADV to be not worth the one page on which it was printed. All the ADV did was set forth “the lawful right of informed consent.” While it is true that a CHOP patient could refuse medical treatment, the plaintiff was CHOP’s employee, not patient. By “voluntarily entering into an employment relationship” with CHOP, the plaintiff was “obligated to comply with” CHOP’s “reasonable directives related to its business interests.” CHOP’s “business interests” included ensuring patient safety. The vaccine policy reasonably furthered that interest.
The plaintiff failed to provide CHOP with a valid reason for refusing the flu vaccine, knowing such failure would result in her firing. In short, CHOP satisfied its burden of proving it had a reasonable policy mandating the flu vaccine for employees, that the plaintiff was aware of the policy, and that the plaintiff deliberately refused to comply with the policy. Accordingly, the court affirmed the denial of unemployment compensation benefits.
Maybe the plaintiff, aside from refusing to get the flu vaccine, was a perfectly fine employee. If so, that is all the more a pity. To our eyes, it is a stupid, unnecessary pity. But the stupidity and lack of necessity are by no means CHOP’s fault.