Health Workers Protest Use of Face Masks

, New York Law Journal

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A union representing workers in state health care facilities has sued the state Department of Health over its requirement that employees wear masks when having direct contact with patients if the workers have not been vaccinated for the flu.

The union argues in Kent v. Shah, 6454-13, in Albany Supreme Court, that there is no evidence that masks would prevent asymptomatic workers from transmitting the flu to others.

See Petition and Brief.

The Public Employees Federation's action also maintains that it is unfair to workers to force them to wear surgical-style masks when in contact with patients for the typical November-to-April flu season. The masks would also inhibit the workers from communicating effectively with some patients who have trouble hearing or understanding English, the suit contends.

The action seeks to block implementation of rules the Health Department put forward in July mandating use of the masks if workers have not been vaccinated for the flu.

The union estimated that as many as 5,000 of its 54,000 members could be affected by the rule. In addition to Public Employees Federation President Susan Kent, the plaintiffs include four nurses at the State University of New York's Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse and Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn.

PEF and other unions representing health care workers successfully blocked a Health Department directive that all health care workers who have contact with patients be vaccinated for the flu (NYLJ, Oct. 19, 2009).

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