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RCN members attending a demonstration or protest

Can I attend a demonstration or protest as a nursing staff member?

It is acceptable for RCN members to take part in peaceful demonstrations or protests. However, you should ensure that this is done in your own time and while engaging in this activity you do nothing that contravenes your contract of employment or NMC requirements. 

The NMC will not take fitness to practise action against you solely based on taking part in lawful demonstrations or protests. However, you must remember that the NMC Code and standards always apply. This means you should behave in a way that promotes professionalism and trust at all times, including when taking part in demonstrations or protests. 

No. Non-registered staff are equally free to take part in peaceful demonstrations or protests. Although the NMC code does not apply to non-registered staff, all employees (including registrants) are required to behave in a manner that does not bring the employer into disrepute. This includes when taking part in demonstrations or protests outside of working hours.

You should refer to the NMC Code to ensure that your behaviour is compliant with the requirements laid down by the NMC. For example, you must: 

  • treat people with kindness, respect and compassion
  • respect and uphold people’s human rights
  • act with honesty and integrity at all times, treating people fairly and without discrimination, bullying, or harassment
  • be aware at all times of how your behaviour can affect and influence the behaviour of other people
  • make sure you do not express your personal beliefs (including political, religious or moral beliefs) to people in an inappropriate way
  • cooperate with the media only when it is appropriate to do so.

Unacceptable behaviour can be described as any behaviour that would reasonably offend someone on the basis of race, age, sex, religion or belief, disability, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity or any other characteristic protected by law. Specific examples include racial or religious slurs, gender-specific comments, encouraging criminal or terrorist activity, or promoting activity connected to cults, gambling or illegal drugs. This list is not exhaustive. 

If you are a registered nurse or nursing associate, the NMC code requires you to ‘keep to the laws of the country in which you are practising’. Any caution, conviction or charge must also be declared to the NMC and your employer and may have consequences for your registration. The NMC will form a view about the seriousness of any breach of this professional standard on a case-by-case basis. Even if the NMC does not impose a sanction, most employers will ask if you have ever been referred to the NMC in their application form.

Similarly, if you are a student, you will probably have to declare convictions and cautions to your university, and it might affect your right to remain on your course. You will have to declare them as part of your ‘good character’ declaration when you apply to join the NMC register.

Additionally, cautions and convictions show up on DBS/DS certificates, which may affect both registrants and non-registered nursing support workers. DBS/DS certificates have to be seen by employers before they can confirm your appointment.

Some countries ask for a declaration about your criminal record when you seek a visa to travel there.

If you are in the UK on a visa any caution or conviction may also impact on your immigration status. See our Immigration Advice Service pages.


You cannot prevent a member of your team from participating in lawful demonstrations or protests. Equally, unless you have evidence that demonstrates staff have behaved in an unacceptable manner, it is not appropriate to commence any form of formal action such as disciplinary procedures.   

You may wish to remind staff of any responsibilities under relevant employer policies or the NMC Code (if appropriate). However, if you choose to do so, you should be careful to act in a supportive way and be clear that you are not seeking to intimidate or dissuade the staff member from participating in lawful activities. 

Your employer has a legal duty of care towards you. There are many issues that lead to public protests that create strong views on both sides. Expression of these issues in the workplace is rarely if ever acceptable. Employers should take action to ensure that workplaces are safe and inclusive environments in which staff can perform their duties without facing discriminatory behaviour.  

Additionally, if a staff member is particularly impacted by an issue, it will be appropriate to offer support. Support can take many forms, for example, conducting a stress risk assessment, referral to occupational health or employee support programmes. It may also be appropriate to consider time away from work on a paid or unpaid basis, variation of duties for a temporary period, or the offer of flexible working arrangements.  

You have the right to freedom of thought, opinion and expression, and can use social media as a means of communicating these. It is important to remember that the same standard of behaviour is expected of you online as it is offline.  

Consider your use of language and phrasing, and whether you would be happy for the comments, photographs or videos you have posted, commented on or shared to be seen by fellow members, colleagues, your manager, patients or members of the public.  

You should not post messages, status updates or links to material or content, that brings your patients, profession, employer or regulator into disrepute. This content includes pornography, racial or religious slurs, gender-specific comments, information encouraging criminal skills or terrorism or materials relating to cults, gambling or illegal drugs.   

Inappropriate content or material also covers any text, images or other media that would reasonably offend someone on the basis of race, age, sex, religion or belief, disability, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity or any other characteristic protected by law.   

If your employer has a social media policy, you may want to review this to see if it provides any further guidance. You should also read the NMC's social media guidance and for more information see their additional supplementary guidance, Freedom of expression and fitness to practise. There is also the and RCN Social Media policy (listed under the section on conduct).

If you are experiencing discrimination, you should: 

  • read your employer’s equality and diversity policy, or dignity at work policy and 
  • speak to your line manager about your concerns.  

If you are not satisfied with your manager's response, you should contact us

You may wish to follow your employer’s grievance procedure. Before you submit a grievance, please read our grievance advice and contact us for help

If you need emotional support, please contact us. Our counselling team may be able to help you. 

You may not feel ready to report discrimination, you may be prepared to wait and see if it happens again or if a pattern emerges before reporting it or submitting a complaint or grievance. It would be advisable to keep notes or a diary if you believe you may have to complain in the future. However, a legal claim cannot normally be brought once three months has passed (unless the action is part of a series of events which can be characterised as a 'continuing act', in which case the time limits are calculated from the last event of the series). Also, if you intend to rely on anyone who witnesses an incident, their memory of the event is likely to fade unless they make a note soon after. 

If you're not sure what to do, please contact us as soon as possible for more support.  

You are free to raise money to support registered charities within your organisations. Additionally, you can raise for the RCN Foundation. For more information, see the RCN Foundation fundraising guidance


The above FAQ has been produced in collaboration with the British Arab Nursing and Midwifery Association (BANMA).

Bullying, harassment and stress

Find out how to tackle bullying at work, or deal with accusations of bullying.


Read more about the disciplinary process and when to contact us for support. 

Questions about your RCN membership?

Find out how to:

  • change your personal details
  • update your payment method
  • subscribe to or change an RCNi journal
  • claim tax relief

...and more. 

Page last updated - 18/12/2023