Health-care workers lose flu shot appeal
Oct 24, 2013 / 9:30 am
A British Columbia arbitrator has upheld a provincial government policy requiring health-care workers in the province to get a flu shot or wear a mask while caring for patients during flu season.
The ruling from the arbitrator says the policy is a valid exercise of the employer's management rights.
Arbitrator Robert Diebolt dismissed the grievance brought by the B.C. Health Sciences Association, a union which represents about 16,000 health-care workers.
"We are of course disappointed in the arbitrator's ruling," Val Avery, president of the association, said in a statement.
"Our members believed they had a right to make personal health care decisions, but this policy says that's not the case. Flu shots are now mandatory for all health care workers, and if they fail to disclose whether they have been immunized, they must wear a mask at all times throughout flu season."
That period would typically run from late November to late March.
The arbitrator's decision was applauded by Dr. Perry Kendall, the province's chief medical officer of health.
"I think that this is good news because I think it's actually a win for patients and residents of long-term care facilities," Kendall said in an interview.
The disputed policy requires health-care workers to be vaccinated against flu each year, or to wear masks while caring for patients during flu season.
The policy includes provisions for disciplinary actions — up to and including dismissal — for employees who refuse to comply with its requirements. But Kendall said he did not expect much active resistance to the policy in health-care settings.
"I think health-care workers really do care for their patients. And I think we'll get a high degree of compliance with the policy."
A spokesperson for the B.C. Health Sciences Association said the organization is studying the ruling and its options.
"There are steps that can be taken. We're not sure that we're going to do that," said Miriam Sobrino, the association's director of communications.
Diebolt wrote in his decision that given the seriousness of influenza, a program that increases immunization rates in the health-care setting is a reasonable policy.
He said he was persuaded there is a rational connection between the policy and patient safety and noted British Columbia is not alone in instituting a flu shot policy for health-care workers.
Many U.S. institutions have already put in place such requirements and last year the health authority in northern New Brunswick instituted a similar policy.
Kendall said a number of other provinces in Canada have been watching these proceedings with interest and he expects others may now proceed with similar policies.
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