The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, is urging companies to bring staff back into the offices. He says the “spontaneity” that comes from working in an office is unparalleled. However, many employers will be eager to have their employees vaccinated before they allow their workplace to return to normality.
With the coronavirus vaccine rollout moving swiftly down the age groups and the UK continuing the largest vaccination programme the world has ever seen; employers must consider the implications for their staff.
Is taking the vaccine a legal requirement?
The Government have made it clear that vaccination will not be a legal requirement. British citizens have the right to say no to taking the vaccine. The issue of vaccine passports has only been briefly mentioned by government officials and is not to be seen anytime soon.
The government’s aim is to make vaccines accessible to everyone in the UK, not to make sure the whole of the UK is vaccinated. However, they are receiving pressure from businesses, such as care homes who understandably believe all their workers should be vaccinated. “No Jab, No Job” seems to be the word on the street; if this will be written into law is another matter.
Can companies force employees to vaccinate?
Even for healthcare workers, the vaccine is not mandatory. Whilst employers are likely to be in favour of their employees being vaccinated, there will be workers who are concerned about the vaccine and would prefer not to have it. Religious or philosophical beliefs come into it, as well as differing health concerns to a minority. As such, employers must be aware that forcing employees to be vaccinated could lead to claims of breaching human rights as well as discrimination claims. Therefore, where the government cannot go, employers would also have difficulty going.
Can you discipline an employee who refuses to take the vaccine?
The only way an employer could possibly consider disciplining an employee who refuses to take the vaccine is under breaching the employer’s reasonable instruction. But, this begs the questions, is it a reasonable request to take the vaccine?
What is important to consider is that whilst the vaccine does reduce the risk of individuals experiencing severe symptoms of COVID-19, it does not prevent the spread of the virus. Those who have been vaccinated can still become infected and pass the virus on. As such, regardless of who has had the vaccine, employers should continue to ensure that other health and safety control measures are in place, with a view of reducing the risk of spread to staff.
On this basis, choosing not to have the vaccine is ultimately the individual’s risk to bear. Employers could only argue the case of dismissal if there was an increased danger. Since there is no increase other than to the individual, employers do run the risk of potential unfair dismissal claims.
Should companies continue social distancing?
It’s hard to argue against vaccination as the most effective way to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and save lives. Yet, employers need to be aware that, whilst the vaccine does reduce the risk of individuals experiencing severe symptoms, it does not mean that employees cannot pass on COVID-19. As such, all employees should continue to follow the government’s guidance on social distancing.
Any company wishing to take disciplinary action against an employee for refusing to be vaccinated must be able to ensure that they have fully engaged with the employee as to their reason for refusal. Note that there are very limited circumstances where disciplinary action will be justified and so it is strongly advised that if you are considering such action, to consult your designated HR Advisor beforehand.