Will 3 NJ women be fired today for refusing flu shots?
Friday morning, three employees who work at Lutheran Social Ministries of New Jersey will find out if they're being fired for refusing to get a flu shot or wear surgical masks in their Burlington office.
Denise Mercurius, a resident of Maple Shade, said she was asked at the beginning of the week if she had gotten a flu shot and she said no.
She was then asked if she had filled out a religious exemption form and she said no. Then, she was asked if she would wear a surgical mask during work hours, and she again answered, no.
At that point, Mercurius said she was instructed to go home, and the next day when she arrived at work she again refused to get a flu shot or wear a mask. She was told to leave and not return until 8:30 a.m., Friday, when she and her fellow workers who also were refusing to be vaccinated would face further disciplinary action. The other workers are Alanda Watson and Megan Duncan.
“It’s unfair, it’s insane and it’s ridiculous,” she said. “Neither of us that work in the corporate office come into contact with any residents, patients or even children or so they claim.”
A company is within its legal rights to fire someone over violating a policy, so long as it's not discriminating, an attorney told New Jersey 101.5.
Mercurius said workers were told during the summer “if we visit an outside facility and don’t get a flu shot we’ll be required to wear a mask, so we agreed to do that, I don’t know why all of a sudden they’ve implemented this policy.”
“I put down that my religious exemption was Christian, and they told me it was insufficient, they have no right to question what my religious beliefs are, that’s an act of discrimination, that’s an act of violating my privacy," she said.
Colleen Frankenfield, Lutheran Social Ministries' president, told New Jersey Advance Media that while she couldn't discuss the employees' specific case, the company's policy requiring the flu shots protects the clients of its facilities — senior citizen homes in West Caldwell and Moorestown, a day treatment center for the homeless in Camden, an immigration center in Trenton, an office providing services for the elderly in Jersey City, and shelters for at-risk children and battered women.
She said about half off the staff has direct contact with those populations, and there's risk of cross-contamination beginning with the staffers who don't.
Willingboro resident Watson, who has also been told she must get a flu shot or wear a surgical mask, said the situation has not been handled well.
“I believe the flu shot should be optional. I believe there are other preventative measures that can be taken. If I am asked to wear a surgical mask, why not ask everyone to wear a mask? Because a cold is a virus as well. I believe this has gone too far," she said. "Instead of trying to strong-arm an entire organization into doing what the company president believes is right, it would have been appreciated to have dialogue and to actually listen to her staff about their concerns. It could and should have been handled differently.”
If she does get fired Friday, Watson said “I’ll look for another job like anybody else.”
Both women confirm they have discussed the situation with a lawyer, but no decisions have been made about what may happen next.