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Judge rules nurses at Brigham must get flu vaccines

A judge ruled that unionized nurses at Brigham and Women’s Hospital must receive flu vaccinations, per the hospital’s policy.
Evan Vucci/Associated Press/File
A judge ruled that unionized nurses at Brigham and Women’s Hospital must receive flu vaccinations, per the hospital’s policy.

A Suffolk Superior Court judge has ruled that unionized nurses at Brigham and Women’s Hospital must follow the hospital’s flu vaccination policy.

The Massachusetts Nurses Association sued the Brigham in September over the policy, which requires all workers be vaccinated annually, with exceptions for medical or religious reasons. The union argued that the policy represented corporate overreach and would unfairly punish nurses — even result in their firing — if they chose not to get vaccinated.

Brigham employees who skip the flu shot must wear face masks when they’re around patients.

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Union officials said Thursday that they still object to the policy, but they’re encouraging their 3,400 members at the Brigham to follow the hospital’s rules anyway.

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“We think it’s a bad decision, but we’ve had to encourage nurses to comply with the policy,” said David Schildmeier, a union spokesman. “Our position remains the same. To maintain this as a fireable offense... is really outlandish.”

Judge Robert N. Tochka denied the union’s request for an injunction to immediately block the hospital’s policy, but the union’s lawsuit is continuing.

“MNA’s speculative claim of potential harm to an unspecified number of unidentified nurses is not adequate to outweigh the risk of harm to the hospital, its employees, and its patients if there is an outbreak of the flu,” Tochka wrote in his decision, which was issued Wednesday.

Brigham spokeswoman Erin McDonough said hospital officials are “gratified that the court has affirmed our right to implement this policy.”

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“Our mandatory influenza vaccination policy was implemented to ensure we provide the highest quality, safest environment for our patients, visitors and our employees,” she said in an e-mail.

The policy requires employees to get vaccinated by Friday.

Hospital officials couldn’t say how many workers had received their shots this year because they were still counting. Last year, 91 percent of all staff were vaccinated, including 94 percent of nurses, they said.

Priyanka Dayal McCluskey can be reached at priyanka.mccluskey@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @priyanka_dayal.