The success of the UK’s inoculation rollout so far has taken everyone by surprise, but whether firms can mandate their workers have the jab is still hotly debated.
The UK’s vaccination programme is now well underway – a positive sign that a return to normal might be possible in the coming months. But the vaccine rollout could also be putting employers between a rock and a hard place. Is it possible to make it compulsory – like Pimlico Plumbers’ ‘no jab, no job’ policy – without infringing on employees’ rights or opening the business up to a potential tribunal claim? Could employers be protected by existing health and safety rules if they insist employees are inoculated? Or could a failure to mandate vaccinations actually lead to claims from staff who don’t otherwise feel safe coming to work?
The government has said it is not planning on making the vaccine mandatory. In February, Edward Argar, secretary of state for health, told the BBC’s Today programme: “That’s not how we do things in this country.” Argar dodged questions of whether existing health and safety law might protect employers mandating vaccination, but at the same time said nothing directly prohibiting businesses from introducing such policies.
If employers did want to go down the route of making vaccination mandatory, it can be made a contractual requirement. Some organisations, in the care sector for example, may already have contract clauses that state employees are required to have the vaccinations relevant to their role.
However, it seems unlikely any employer will find themselves in a position where mandating vaccination becomes necessary to meet health and safety obligations. Making vaccination compulsory is risky and could lead to claims of unfair or constructive unfair dismissal if an individual is fired or resigns over the issue. If failure to comply leads to a disciplinary action then the employer will need to be able to show at a tribunal that the instruction was reasonable, that the employee’s refusal was unreasonable, and that a fair process took place.
It’s a good idea for employers to create a policy on vaccination if you don’t have one already and encourage employees to get vaccinated by running awareness campaigns, holding Q&As with GPs or other medical experts and pointing staff towards official guidance and sources of information. This can all help explain the importance of vaccination and how it can help create a Covid-secure workplace.
Where employees do raise concerns about having the vaccine, it’s important to listen to them and take them seriously. Confidentiality is also important to avoid any stigma against people who don’t get vaccinated. There are many reasons individuals might not want to have the jab – including legitimate health concerns.
Employers should also consider the wider wellbeing of their workforce when approaching them about vaccinations. The last year has been tough on everyone and the approach needs careful and sensitive management in the workplace.
To talk though your options and to put a Vaccine Policy in place, contact us today.