By Sarah Dillon, director at ESP Law (www.esphr.co.uk)
Following the Government’s announcement that it intends to require care organisation employees to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19, the legislation is expected to be enacted later this year and take effect in October 2021.
That means the mandatory vaccination of all employees and workers of CQC-regulated care homes will be required. Additionally, it is expected that individuals will be provided with 16 weeks in which to obtain both doses of the vaccination. The only exemption proposed relates to those who have a medical condition.
Early indications are that the requirement to be vaccinated will apply to all those employed or engaged by care homes – including agency workers, volunteers and even visiting workers to the homes such as chiropodists, doctors, nurses, hairdressers, maintenance workers and others. This will mean that organisations who are not specifically regulated by the CQC could be required to ensure their employees and workers are vaccinated.
The announcement followed a public consultation – which received 13,500 responses from owners, employees, residents, and their families – into the question of mandatory vaccination. The consultation was prompted by Government concerns of the poor take up of vaccinations
in some areas of the country amongst care workers. SAGE has released guidance stating that the minimum level of vaccinations needed to protect vulnerable people in care homes is 90% of residents and 80% of staff (fully vaccinated).
As of 16 June 2021, the Government reported that only 65% of older care homes in England are meeting this minimum level of staff uptake needed to reduce the risk of outbreaks in high-risk care settings – falling to 44% of care homes in London.
Here are four steps that care providers can take now.
1. COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATION
There are several reasons why employees or others, may refuse the vaccine – from concerns regarding fertility and pregnancy, concerns over the safety of the vaccine, medical conditions, and religious beliefs.
Employers should engage with employees and share information on the latest research regarding the vaccines to provide reassurance and encourage voluntary vaccination. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have extensive materials on their website, including videos, outlining advice to pregnant women and those concerned about fertility. The Government and other bodies have also produced guidance on vaccination safety.
Educating staff with information from trusted and reputable sources can help employees make an informed decision on receiving the Covid- 19 vaccine.
2. POLICIES AND PROCEDURES
If staff ultimately refuse to have a vaccine, and legislation is passed to make it mandatory, employers may be left with little option but to dis- miss employees. Even where the reason for the dismissal is due to legislation, employers will still need to follow a fair procedure.
Start looking at, and drafting, a vaccination policy outlining the procedure to follow and the steps to take. For example, before dismissal, employers would need to consider whether the employee can be rede- ployed elsewhere in the organisation where they would not be a risk.
Other policies, such as the Data Protection Policy, must be amended to deal with how information on staff vaccinations will be handled, where the information will be stored, and how long it will be retained.
Examine recruitment processes, procedures, offer letters and con- tracts to include the upcoming requirement to be vaccinated. Some companies already require new employees to be vaccinated unless there is a medical (or other) reason for refusing. If an organisation does not yet require vaccination, consider whether the policy should be updated to include the requirement.
Finding good staff is difficult for care organisations at the best of times and has been extremely challenging during the pandemic. The new legislation is likely to cause more people to leave the profession. Consider how the organisation will attract new staff. Where will they come from? What else can be offered? Acting early may put an employer ahead of the game.
4. EXTERNAL ORGANISATIONS
Identify which external organisations regularly send workers into the home – early contact and communication over the future requirements are vital. Some organisations may not realise that the legislation could affect their staff. It may be possible to agree a plan for future and notification requirements. If this is not possible, it may be necessary to amend commercial terms to reflect the new legislation.
In a sector that has been battered and bruised from the Covid-19 pandemic, there are more challenges to come. However, swift action could help ease the management of the upcoming legislation.