Questions around return of non-Covid vaccinated French health worker

Questions have arisen after the first unvaccinated healthcare worker was able to return to work, despite a ban having been in place since September 2021

A nurse with a Covid vaccine syringe
The woman was first suspended in September 2021 and is not vaccinated against Covid
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The first healthcare worker not vaccinated against Covid has returned to work in France, after the court of appeal said it saw no reason to continue her suspension. Why and how? We take a look.

1. Who is the worker?

She is a sophrologist nurse with more than 30 years’ experience. She works at the Institut Curie research and cancer centre in Paris.

Sophrology is a type of relaxation or hypnosis therapy, often considered as complementary care. Her work has been described as aiming to help patients “better manage issues caused by [cancer] and its treatments.”

2. When was she suspended from work?

She was suspended in September 2021, due to not being vaccinated against Covid, but was not allowed to work anywhere else.

This is why she questioned her suspension, and asked a tribunal in Paris to examine her case. It found that her suspension had been done in an “arbitrary” way and that her work contract was “not honoured in good faith”.

The court therefore found that there was no good reason to continue her suspension. Her lawyer, Tarek Koraitem, said: “To be clear, her employer should have found another solution for this worker. Another job, remote work, or another solution.”

The worker returned to work on June 9, but the case was only thrown out on December 1. After the woman returned to work, the Institute was required to pay her salary back payments for her time away. It therefore asked the court for permission to reinstate her suspension. This request was denied.

3. Why did the court find in favour of the woman?

The court found that the institute had “not established” a good enough reason to continue the woman’s suspension, after she had already returned to work. It also found that the institute should pay the worker €1,500 in legal fees.

4. Will this decision affect other suspended workers?

The woman’s lawyer says yes. He called the decision “historic”.

He said: “This groundbreaking order will be able to serve all private sector employees in the same situation. This victory serves the thousands of suspended caregivers in this situation.

He told FranceInfo: “I consider that any nurse in a private establishment in France can take advantage of this decision to challenge their suspension.”

5. What is France's current position on unvaccinated healthcare workers?

The issue is controversial. Unvaccinated workers were suspended in September 2021.

However, on November 24, MPs of opposition party La France Insoumise presented a bill to the Assembée nationale (parliament), calling for the reinstatement of unvaccinated health personnel. The Rassemblement National has also submitted a similar bill.

Yet, MPs loyal to the president prevented a vote on the issue before the end of the session, prompting yet more controversy.

President Emmanuel Macron, who has historically been against letting unvaccinated staff return to work, said on November 25 that their return should now only be a "scientifically established" decision, and "not a political choice”.

He said: "If scientists…tell us that it is desirable, from a scientific point of view, to reinstate these caregivers, the government must do so.”

Minister of Health, François Braun, said on November 20 that he was waiting for opinions from healthcare and ethics authorities the Haute Autorité de santé and the Comité consultatif d'éthique before making a decision.

France is one of the last European countries to maintain mandatory vaccination for health care workers. In Italy, which was the first EU country to require public and private health care workers to be vaccinated against Covid-19, all suspended doctors and nurses were able to return to work from November 1.

Similar rules were also lifted for UK healthcare workers earlier this year.

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