By Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula (www.peninsulagrouplimited.com)
Despite employers’ measures to ensure that their workplace is COVID secure, many will view the vaccine as the key development to offer the utmost protection against coronavirus to employees. Therefore, employers will be keen to see their employees taking up the vaccine to enable a return to a more ‘normal’ way of working.
The Government’s current strategy is to offer the vaccine on a voluntary basis and has stopped short of making it a mandatory exercise. This means that the UK population will have a choice over whether to take this step which means that some may, for various reasons, decline.
In the main, it is not likely that employers will be able to require their employees to have the vaccine. This will be particularly true of workplaces which lend themselves to homework- ing because there are clearly other tried and tested methods to safeguard employees’ welfare during, and after, the pandemic. Employers would be in a better position to require employees to have the vaccine if a clause exists within the contract of employment which covers medical intervention in place to safeguard colleagues as well as the public with whom the employee may come into contact with. However, these will be rare and even where they do exist; employers would need to proceed with caution.
Instructions to employees to have the vaccine would need to be reasonable. Employers in some sectors may be in a stronger position to give a reasonable management instruction to employees due to the nature of the work, for example, those in the care sector where it is difficult, or impossible, to adhere to social distancing and other health and safety rules that other employers would find manageable.
However, employees in these sectors may have valid reasons for not getting the vaccine on medical advice, for example, pregnant employees or those with certain health conditions so employers who wish to take action for ‘refusal’ should be aware of the risks.
Employees may also choose not to have the vaccine for religious reasons. Some may argue that the antivax movement would qualify as a philosophical belief, both of which are covered under the ‘religion or belief’ aspect of the Equality Act 2010. Employers would have to be careful that no employee was subject to less favourable treatment – dismissal, for example – for refusing the vaccine because of one of the protected characteristics named in the Act.