The coronavirus vaccine roll out is now underway and, if all continues to go to plan, all employees will be given the chance to have the vaccination in 2021. The matter of whether employers insist employees take the vaccine when it’s offered to them, how to deal with employees who refuse it and the impact the vaccine may have on return to workplace strategies is now being discussed.
Employers should now be considering how to approach this development and whether to issue a policy covering their position.
Will people be forced to get the vaccine?
The Government does not have the power to force citizens to get the vaccine. This has led employers to consider their options in enforcing vaccination on their employees in order to protect their workforce and the business overall.
Organisations are likely to find some employees deciding that they do not want the vaccine. For example when it comes to vaccines some religious groups and vegans have concerns over the use of animal products – and these groups are protected by The Equality Act 2010. The government are running an awareness campaign which employers can use to signpost employees.
Do employers have the right to discipline and dismiss employees who refuse the vaccination?
Firstly, employers should always consider an employee’s reasons for not wanting to be vaccinated before it makes any decisions about disciplinary action in order to avoid claims against it in relation to unfair dismissal or discrimination. There are some groups of people, such as those with severe allergies and pregnant women, who have been advised not to have the vaccine or will not be routinely offered it.
Secondly, it’s important to consider alternatives to vaccination, such as permanent homeworking or moving to a role that does not require face to face contact, which may avoid the requirement for a vaccine.
Whether you can ask that your employees have the vaccine will depend on a number of factors and it has yet to be decided in employment law as a potential ‘reasonable management instruction’ justifying disciplinary action.
In some sectors it may be easier for organisations to implement a policy which makes vaccination a requirement of employment so that vulnerable patients are protected. For example, frontline health care professionals who are responsible for the care of others and often vulnerable patients. Regardless of the sector, making vaccination compulsory could lead to issues and therefore it’s important to consider all aspects before blanket approaches are adopted.
Is encouragement the best option?
Most employees will likely be keen to take advantage of the vaccine for reasons around social interaction, for example to enable them to see colleagues and potentially work in shared workspaces some of the time. The best course of action for most employers will likely be that of encouraging vaccination by publicising the benefits.
Staff may be worried about having the vaccine and discussing their concerns and signposting to them where they can find accurate and impartial information may help alleviate those fears. Taking it a step further may be to consider, when possible, leading by example.
Should employers implement a Coronavirus Vaccination policy?
Some employees may be concerned about taking time off during their working days to have the vaccine and employers may like to take the opportunity to let employees know how the time will be treated. Putting a policy in place could help employers who want to encourage take up as well as creating an opportunity to reiterate stance and approach to employees in an open and transparent way.
Eventually it may become possible for employers to provide vaccination to its employees in the same way some companies offer the flu vaccine, although this is likely to be some way off given the global demand. For now, it is more important for employers to reflect on how they will adapt to the rollout of the vaccine and begin preparing their approach.