By Korie Marshall

A controversial policy that requires health-care workers in BC to get a flu shot or wear a mask during the flu season
has been upheld.

BC Health Sciences Association, representing 16,000 health-care workers, brought a grievance against the government over the new flu shot policy. It was to come into effect Dec. 1, 2012, but several health-care unions argued their workers are entitled to privacy and their own choice on the matter.

Arbitrator Robert Diebolt ruled in favor of the health authority on Oct. 23, agreeing that all health-care workers must get immunized against influenza each year, or wear a mask at all times during the declared flu season.

“We are of course disappointed in the arbitrator’s ruling,” said Val Avery, President of Health Sciences Association in a release. “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,” Avery said.

But Avery said the decision does address some privacy concerns the union had with the policy. The arbitrator determined “it was an abuse of the privacy rights of health care workers” for immunization status reports of employees to be circulated at the workplace, as was done in 2012. In addition, the original policy required health care workers to report if other workers were not complying with the policy, which could create an unnecessary atmosphere of suspicion and accusation in the workplace. That requirement is removed.

“We will be telling our members to comply with the new policy, or risk being fired,” Avery said.

The release from the Health Sciences Association notes the arbitrator also found the policy extends to anyone who enters a hospital, including visitors, doctors, volunteers and outside contractors. Non-compliance can result in the removal of hospital privileges for doctors, and the termination of contracts.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) is also disappointed by the ruling.

“Our members are professionals and should be able to make up their own minds about their personal health and its impact on service, so we’re disappointed by this ruling,” said Troy Clifford, Health Care Sector Coordinator for CUPE in a statement. “Regardless, we will respect the ruling and encourage our members to follow the policy.”

Flu season is typically declared from late-November to March by the Provincial Health Officer.