By Liam Entwistle, employment law specialist and chairman at Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie LLP (www.wjm.co.uk)
The UK’s COVID-19 vaccination drive has been in the spotlight since the rollout began in December 2020. Many frontline workers and carers are currently going through the process of receiving both doses of the vaccine, however, there is has been concern about anti-vaccination information and the effects it may be having on some workplaces. This is a particular concern in relation to care home employees.
A UK care home provider recently revealed it had made coronavirus vaccination compulsory for new employees, and declared existing staff would face dismissal if they refused to be vaccinated. This has raised questions around whether an employer can legally introduce this kind of rule.
Having a workplace vaccination policy isn’t necessarily wrong, if there is a genuine occupational requirement. The starting point for an employer is to ask themselves if staff must be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to carry out their particular job. If the answer is yes, then the key step is the implementation of any vaccination policy.
Employers must follow a fair, reasonable and thought-out implementation procedure. If an employer dismisses a staff member on the spot for refusing the vaccine, it could be an unfair dismissal as there was no clear process or balanced approach. The best way to start is by notifying your workforce they will have to be vaccinated within a certain time period, and ask those who may have objections to come forward. If you do receive objections, listen to the reasoning. A person may not wish to receive the vac- cine due to a philosophical or religious belief system. Meanwhile, there are those who may not be able to receive it due to a disability. Therefore, insisting that these groups receive the vaccine could lead to a discrimination claim.
If staff cite a reason which appears to be inspired by unsubstantiated anti-vaccination information, share the information that you are relying on with them and give them the opportunity to understand the basis for your decision. If you’ve given them time to con- sider their decision, taking into account the information you provided, and they don’t change their mind, then a dismissal could be within the band of reasonable responses, and therefore fair.
It’s worth noting this is not a blanket rule for employers, as processes will differ depending on the workplace. As an employer, you must be able to prove your work- force could not continue to work in the absence of a vaccine. That is why there is no ‘one size fits all’ vaccination policy.
If an employer moves too quickly, doesn’t give staff members a chance to share their concerns, and doesn’t try to educate those who are against vaccination before making any decisions, they could be entering into the realms of unfair dismissal. Introducing knee-jerk ‘no jab no job’ rules will almost certainly end in claims.
Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie LLP are able to advise on a wide range of employment law matters. If you’re concerned about your workplace’s policy on Covid-19 vaccinations, whether as an employer or employee, call 0141 248 3434 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.wjm.co.uk