By Katie Ash, Head of Employment Law at Banner Jones Solicitors (www.bannerjones.co.uk)
With the Covid-19 vaccine being rolled out across the country, many are starting to wonder when it will be their turn.
To date, vulnerable, front-line, care home staff and social workers have been at the front of the queue, with plans now afoot to reach the rest of the UK’s 66 million residents.
Most people are being encouraged to have the vaccine in order to protect themselves, and others, from the most severe symptoms of the virus, and it is publicised as an important part of the Government’s lockdown exit strategy.
As the case rates continue to fall, more people will return to their place of work – including those in offices, teachers and support staff at schools and colleges, and retail workers operating in non-essential shops, bars and restaurants.
But what are your rights, and can you refuse the vaccine?
Here, Katie Ash, Head of Employment Law at Banner Jones Solicitors answers some of the most commonly asked questions, including whether an employer can insist that staff receive the injection.
CAN MY EMPLOYER MAKE ME HAVE THE COVID-19 VACCINATION?
In simple terms, your boss probably won’t be able to force you to have the vaccination.
Employers do have a legal obligation to protect the health and wellbeing of their employees, and in some cases, such as where staff are coming into contact with many people in ways that pose high risks, they may strongly encourage you to be vaccinated to keep you safe.
However, making a vaccination mandatory could go against individual human rights. Medical intervention of this kind requires consent. If your employer forced you to have the immunisation under duress, you may be able to take legal action against them.
Furthermore, there are several situations in which forcing a vaccine could be considered discrimination.
Pregnant women, though advised to shield at the start of the pandemic, may wish to turn the vaccine down at this stage. It has not yet been tested on pregnant women and so Government guidance advises that most should wait until the end of pregnancy to be injected.
If you have a strong philosophical belief that would affect your decision to be vaccinated, you may be protected by the Equality Act 2010. For example, vegans and members of some religious groups may object to the use of gelatine in many vaccines.They would be covered by the Equality Act 2010.
However, this may be risky as official Government guidance recommends coming forward for the vaccine.
IF I DON’T HAVE THE VACCINE, DOES MY EMPLOYER STILL HAVE TO MAKE ACCOMMODATIONS FOR ME TO WORK FROM HOME?
If you can’t have the vaccine or have sufficient grounds to turn it down, then your boss should continue to prioritise your health and safety.This could include letting you work from home where possible during lock- down.
A reasonable employer should respect the fact that you cannot not be forced to be vaccinated.They should offer their help with keeping you physically and mentally healthy while carrying out your duties.
CAN I REFUSE TO COMPLY WITH MY EMPLOYER’S REQUESTS REGARDING THE VACCINE?
As explained, you may have sufficient reasons for not following a company vaccination policy which could go some way in justifying your refusal to comply.
That said, you should tread carefully. In a tribunal, in is unlikely that you would find success in simply stating your distrust of the vaccine. Official health guidance recommends being inoculated for the wellbeing of your- self and others.
Additionally, refusing to agree to your employer’s instructions could potentially lead to a dismissal if the vac- cine is crucial to protect you and others in your work.
You should also check your employment contract for any clauses relating to medical examinations which your employer could use against your refusal.
HOW IS BEST TO HANDLE THE SITUATION AT THIS STAGE?
The best thing you can do at this stage is to keep in open dialogue with your employer. Let them know of any concerns you have such as a phobia of needles or religious reasons for turning the vaccination down so they know where you’re at.
If you don’t voice your worries, your employer may not consider your case when putting a policy in place regarding the vaccine and you could unintentionally be caught out.
Between you, you will hopefully be able to agree on a reasonable compromise if you’re sure you will not be able to have the vaccine.This will be much easier than taking legal action later.
If you’re considering not having the vaccine because of personal beliefs or your personal circumstances, make sure you’re making an informed choice. Check government and public health guidance, speak to colleagues and seek information from reliable sources, such as your GP, before drawing your conclusions.