Can you make it mandatory for your staff to have a Covid vaccine?
One subject on everybody’s mind at the moment is the return to normal life following the lockdown. The vaccine has given that gimmer of hope that things will soon return to normal levels.
The rollout of the vaccine prioritises individuals according to category groups, with many of the younger groups, and those without pre-existing health conditions not set to receive their vaccine until later in the year. However, many industries including care, education and front-line services are now seeing their staff called forward for the vaccine.
Naturally, this is leading employers to question whether they can make the vaccine mandatory for their staff.
This is a question that is attracting a lot of attention in the media and raising interesting question in terms of employment law. There are currently no mandatory vaccines in the UK, as the enforcement of this would potentially be a breach of human rights and individual liberty. Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights sets out protection, and its scope includes mandatory vaccines.
Employers do have a duty to ensure the health and safety of their workforce as far as reasonably possible – so for many, enforcing the vaccine seems like a logical way to do this. However, it is very unlikely to be deemed legal to enforce a mandatory vaccination policy. This could open up claims of discrimination and/or constructive dismissal. Many characteristics which are protected under law may relate to the vaccine, and these could all result in certain groups of employees being treated less favourably than vaccinated staff – some examples include:
- maternity (whether pregnant women can be vaccinated),
- religion (are there religious beliefs which prevent someone being vaccinated),
- disability (where the disability prevents the person being vaccinated),
- anti-vaxxers could deem their beliefs a philosophical belief under the Equality Act,
- age related discrimination, where younger people are likely to be vaccinated much later than the older age bracket, potentially resulted in discrimination whilst they wait for vaccines.
As part of your risk assessments, you should assess individuals you work with. Some settings, i.e., those caring for vulnerable adults/children may be able to take a different approach to other industries, due to their responsibility to protect those they care for. However, even in those industries there is currently nothing to suggest that vaccinations will be enforceable in law, or that employment decisions will be able to be made depending on vaccination status.
Another consideration is that of GDPR and data collation, and whether employers will have a need to obtain (and hold) vaccination status under the legislation.
Overall, it is certainly possible to have a company-wide vaccination policy and encourage your staff to be vaccinated. You could display posters giving the relevant information and support staff with time off to attend appointments. Some big employers are even looking at arranging vaccinations on-site. These measures must be in addition to your other Covid-safe working risk assessments, and will not be a replacement for masks, good hygiene and social distancing.
Please contact us if you need any further information regarding any aspect of Covid safe working, vaccination policies or more general HR.