In Florida, although it is not the statute’s intent to punish employers for providing a personal benefit to their employees, such as vaccinations to prevent the spread of COVID-19, employers must be cognizant that vaccination injuries can be deemed injuries arising out of the course and scope of employment.
This was first determined by the Florida 1st DCA in Monette v. Manatee Memorial Hospital, 579 So.2d 195 (Fla. 1st DCA 1991.) In Monette, the employer-provided the employee with a flu vaccination. The vaccine was administered at the hospital by a hospital employee during the claimant’s normal work shift. The court determined that the flu vaccination injury stemmed as a natural consequence of employment under the personal comfort doctrine. “That is, by availing herself of the offered flu shot, Ms. Monette made an effort to avoid illness that would impair her work performance thereby acting incidentally to her employment.” See Mulligan, Jacob v. Alden Beach Resort/Unisource Administrators, Inc.,02-004993SPT (Final Order dated July 22, 2003) citing Monette,579 So.195. “The personal comfort doctrine was relied upon by the Monette, supra, court even though Ms. Monette was at high risk of contracting the flu by virtue of a medical condition unrelated to her work and the evidence established that hospital employees were at greater risk of contracting the flu than any other people.” Id.
With the new release of COVID-19 vaccinations with fast-tracked clinical trials, it is feasible that an employee may have a reaction, as was the case in Monette. Employers must weigh the benefit of requiring employees to have the COVID-19 vaccination with:
(1) the cost of medical expenses associated with the risk of an employee having a vaccination reaction and any potential long-term effects versus;
(2)the cost of medical expenses associated with the risk of an employee contracting COVID-19, which can vary from nominal to extensive if the employee is admitted to an ICU and has post-COVID-19 issues with their lungs or kidneys, including death.
In general, it is recommended that an employer carefully weigh these risks and benefits, and recognize that they face the potential for a compensable, workplace injury if an employee receives a vaccine at the request or urging of the employer and suffers some adverse effect or reaction, particularly if such vaccine is paid for or administered by the employer during work hours.