Can Interpreters Refuse to Assist a COVID Patient?

doc and interpreter

Can Interpreters Refuse to Assist a COVID Patient?

Medical interpreters typically have to work closely with patients. However, during the coronavirus pandemic, being near a patient could be risky to the interpreter’s health. As a result, many interpreters and healthcare facilities may wonder, “Can interpreters refuse to assist a COVID patient?” If you’re in that group, here’s what you need to know.

Can Interpreters Refuse to Assist a COVID Patient?

Technically, interpreters can refuse to work with COVID patients. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t ramifications for taking that stance. Precisely what may occur could depend on an interpreter’s position, any work-related contracts in place, and what accommodations or safety procedures the healthcare facility uses to protect the health of its interpreters.

Here is a closer look at why interpreters might refuse to assist COVID patients and the risks of making that choice.

Reasons Why Interpreters May Refuse to Assist COVID Patients

The primary reason an interpreter may want to refuse to assist COVID patients is usually safety. With in-person interpretation, close proximity to the patient is typically required. While social distancing recommendations outline six feet as the closest people should gather, that may not be enough when working directly with a COVID patient.

Usually, the interpreter is with the patient in an enclosed space. In that case, being within 60 feet of the patient – even when masks are worn – might carry the same risks as being with six feet if the virus is well mixed in the area, something that may occur in patient rooms. Additionally, some experts feel that the six-foot rule doesn’t work when they are in the room breathing the same air for an extended period, including when both parties wear masks.

However, if an interpreter is comfortable with those risks if they have suitable personal protective equipment (PPE), but the healthcare facility is unable to provide it, a refusal to work with the patient may seem appropriate. At that point, the workplace isn’t offering reasonable protective measures, which may lead an interpreter to also refuse on the basis of safety.

Aside from safety, some interpreters may have other objections against working with COVID patients. For example, while remaining neutral is a necessity for interpreters, some may struggle to do so if the patient’s vaccine status doesn’t align with their stance.

The Risks of Refusing to Assist a COVID Patient as an Interpreter

Generally speaking, interpreters choosing not to assist a patient on the basis of a COVID diagnosis isn’t considered discriminatory legally. A COVID infection doesn’t inherently qualify as a disability. Plus, exposure puts the interpreter at risk, which alters the equation to a degree.

However, refusing to work with a COVID patient does carry some risks. It could be viewed as a violation of a work contract (depending on how it’s written) or a refusal to perform one’s job duties. In those cases, it could lead to a termination of employment if the interpreter’s role can only be performed in person, barring some exceptions. For example, if the refusal is based on the healthcare facility’s refusal or inability to provide appropriate PPE, a termination may be unjustifiable.

While one could argue that the healthcare facility could look at alternative ways to work with an interpreter, such as using video remote or phone-based interpretation, whether that’s considered a reasonable accommodation can vary. For some medical facilities, providing services in that manner instead may be easy to manage. For others, that might not be the case.

If an accommodation isn’t an option, an interpreter may be putting their job in jeopardy by continuing to refuse. Similarly, refusing to work with only specific COVID patients could be problematic. In that case, the decision might seem discriminatory, which might lead to a termination.

How to Safely Interpret for a COVID Patient

If an interpreter needs to work with a COVID patient, going the extra mile to ensure their safety is wise. Ideally, using remote interpretation options is best, including video or phone-based services. This eliminates the need for the interpreter to be in the room with the patient, making it the safest option.

However, in-person interpretation can be essential in some facilities or situations. In that case, wearing suitable PPE is a vital starting point. This could include masks, face shields, gloves, gowns, or other equipment deemed beneficial.

Similarly, maintaining as much physical distance as possible can help, particularly in spaces where the air isn’t yet mixed. In those cases, aim for a minimum of six feet.

Do You Need Reliable Medical Interpreters to Assist COVID Patients?

If you’re looking for a professional medical interpreter to assist COVID patients, Acutrans can help. At Acutrans, we offer certified medical interpretation services in-person and remotely, including over the phone and video remote.

Plus, Acutrans can provide certified, notarized medical document translations within 24 hours. If you need a medical interpreter or translator, the Acutrans team can offer a fast, reliable, and professional solution. Contact us for a free quote today.