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Kansas court: OK to deny benefits to worker who objected to vaccine

A hospital can deny unemployment benefits to a former employee who objected to receiving a flu vaccine, according to a recent ruling from the Kansas Court of Appeals.

In a unanimous decision, the three-judge appeals panel affirmed a lower court ruling dismissing the case of Debra Rhodenbaugh, who had been an emergency department clerk at McPherson Hospital. In 2013, the hospital announced employees would be required to receive a flu vaccination to limit exposure and transmission of the virus, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

The hospital allowed for religious and medical exceptions. Rhodenbaugh chose the second, and sent the hospital a note from her doctor stating she "prefers to defer flu shot at this time."

When the hospital said the note didn't qualify as a medical exception, Rhodenbaugh provided detailed reasons for not wanting a flu shot including relatives who she said died and suffered complications after receiving vaccinations.

She was fired two days later, and 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.

Shawnee County District Court Judge Rebecca Crotty sided with the hospital, saying the vaccination rule was fairly enforced.

"The policy applied to all employees and reasonable exceptions were made for those objecting on medical or religious grounds," Crotty ruled.

In agreeing with Crotty, the appeals panel said Rhodenbaugh had a "duty to the hospital to follow the safety rule by either receiving the flu vaccine or meeting the applicable exemptions." The ruling said Rhodenbaugh's failure to comply amounted to job-related misconduct "and thus disqualified her for unemployment benefits."


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