In Valent v. Board of Review, A-4980-11T2 (App. Div., June 5, 2014), the New Jersey Appellate Division ruled that a hospital employee who refused a flu shot for purely secular reasons was still eligible for unemployment benefits, The Hackettstown Community Hospital had a policy that required that all registered nurses to receive the flu vaccine unless there was a documented medical or religious exemption precluding the vaccination. One nurse objected to the flu vaccine on a purely secular basis (unrelated to any religious concerns), and was fired as a result. Although she was initially denied unemployment benefits (with the Department of Labor finding the hospital’s vaccination policy to be reasonable, and therefore her discharge to be grounded in misconduct), the Appellate Division reversed on First Amendment grounds. The court ruled that the denial of benefits unconstitutionally discriminated against the plaintiff’s freedom of expression by improperly endorsing the employer’s religion-based exemption to the flu vaccination policy, while rejecting the plaintiff’s secular objection. Accordingly, the court held that the employer was unable to prove any disqualifying misconduct.
Note: This article was also published in the July 17, 2014 issue of the New Jersey eAuthority