Expert advice

Legal advice: My boss is trying to pressure me into having the flu jab. Is this legal?

Compelling nurses to have the flu vaccination against their wishes is both unethical and unlawful, says legal expert Marc Cornock. 

Compelling nurses to have the flu vaccination against their wishes is both unethical and unlawful, says legal expert Marc Cornock 

Anyone receiving a medical procedure, including a flu vaccination, must
provide valid consent. Picture: Justin Slee

Two legal and ethical issues arise from a campaign that uses pressure to ‘persuade’ nurses to receive a vaccination they may not want. 

The first relates to the individual nurse’s consent to the procedure, and the second to the legal and ethical position of the person providing the vaccination.

For a person to receive a procedure, including a flu vaccination, they must provide valid consent. This has to be given freely and without any undue pressure or coercion. If the nurse receiving the flu vaccination has only given consent because of pressure from their employer or others, consent would not be legally valid. 

Regulatory action

Consent also needs to be in place to protect the person proposing to give the flu vaccination from any legal action of trespass to the person or battery. Without consent, the person giving the vaccination could face legal and regulatory action. 

Compelling a nurse or any other front-line staff member to receive a flu vaccination against their wishes is unethical and unlawful. If a person cannot be compelled to have the vaccination, it cannot be trust policy, and a nurse cannot be dismissed for refusing it. 

The nurse could be removed from front line duties if it can be demonstrated they are putting patients at risk, but this would require a clear causal link and would be subject to the nurse’s contract of employment. Any form of disciplinary action taken against the nurse would appear unfair.   

Although all front-line staff members should consider receiving the flu vaccination, legally they can refuse. Otherwise, it is a form of undue pressure and coercion, not something we want in the NHS in relation to patients or staff. 

Marc Cornock is a qualified nurse, academic lawyer and senior lecturer at the Open University

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