27 January 2022
A care assistant in a residential home for dementia sufferers, who refused her employer’s requirement to take the COVID-19 vaccine, was fairly dismissed. She failed to follow a reasonable management instruction, after her employer introduced a mandatory vaccination policy in January 2021 making the COVID-19 vaccine a condition of her continued employment.
The care worker said she chose not to be vaccinated because she did not trust the vaccine’s safety. Later in a disciplinary hearing to consider her dismissal, for the first time, she argued that she had a religious objection to the vaccine based on her Rastafarianism. The employer did not believe this reason was genuine. She was dismissed as posing a real risk to the health of residents, staff and visitors. As a small employer, its insurers had also stated that its public liability insurance would not cover it for COVID-19 related risks.
The Tribunal decided she was acting unreasonably in her vaccine refusal because she had given no medical authority or clinical basis for her stated vaccine concerns and it accepted the employer’s scepticism that her refusal was connected with a religious belief. The interference in her private life was proportionate because of the nature of the nursing home’s business and the vulnerability of the residents in its care. The care worker’s own recent COVID-19 infection was insufficient protection for them.
This decision will provide reassurance to care sector employers introducing mandatory vaccination policies. Since 11 November 2021 it has been mandatory for care home workers in England to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and the same will apply to frontline healthcare workers in England from 1 April 2022, in each case unless the worker is exempt.
However, the employer in this case was scrupulous about its disciplinary process and record keeping whilst the worker was found by the Tribunal to have weaker written records.
Less well organised employers or employees who state a genuinely held religious belief consistently as a vaccine refusal reason could bring different results in other such Tribunal claims. Following specialist legal advice on your processes in this developing area must be the recommended course.
If you are an employer and would like any employment legal advice and guidance on mandatory vaccination, please contact Jennifer Mansoor.