Compulsory vaccinations: what should employers consider?
As the Coronavirus vaccination is successfully rolled out across the UK, Philip Sayers, solicitor in Coodes’ Employment team, discusses whether employers can introduce compulsory vaccinations for employees.
As we take tentative steps towards unlocking many of the current restrictions, many employers are grappling with the issue of compulsory vaccinations for staff. The successful roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccine has played a huge part in the Government’s decision to begin to ease restrictions across the country.
Over recent months, NHS employees and those working in care homes, have been among the first to be offered the vaccine. This has helped to provide protection for both employees and the vulnerable people they come into contact with at work. However, it has raised some interesting questions about whether employers can make vaccinations compulsory for their workers.
Can an employer introduce compulsory vaccinations?
Introducing compulsory vaccinations for employees is a new consideration, but, already, a fairly contentious one.
The Government has stated that the vaccination is not currently a legal requirement for anyone. It is also important to note that an employer cannot legally force an employee to have any medical procedure, including a vaccination.
However, in some circumstances, it may be deemed reasonable to request your employees to receive the vaccination. This may be especially important if your employees work with vulnerable people. From a legal position, while you cannot force staff to have a vaccination, you could make it a requirement for a particular role.
Many employers may already be considering making the vaccination a condition of employment for existing and new staff. In fact, some may have even taken steps to make this happen, particularly if employees are in face-to-face contact with members of the public.
However, before employers decide to enforce vaccinations for their employees, they should ensure they understand the legal position.
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What are the legal considerations?
The main legal issue around compulsory vaccinations that could arise for employers is indirect discrimination. People are protected against discrimination in the workplace through the Equality Act 2010. A person may refuse to get the vaccination for any number of reasons, including religious or cultural beliefs, a pregnancy or a health condition. If that person feels they have been discriminated against, because of this reason, then they could bring a legal claim against you, as their employer.
Enforcing vaccinations in the workplace will also mean that employers will have to handle sensitive medical data about their employees. This information will need to be handled cautiously, with employers ensuring they are compliant with data protection law. If you decide to go ahead with compulsory vaccinations, you may need to get professional legal advice to ensure you are correctly holding any sensitive data.
What could I do instead of compulsory vaccinations?
There are many things that an employer could consider as an alternative to mandatory vaccinations for staff. It’s important to maintain a dialogue with employees to understand how they have been impacted by the ongoing pandemic as well as discussing any changes to their contract of employment.
An employer could instead consider:
- Regular Covid-19 testing for employees.
- Offering unvaccinated employees alternative roles in a different working environment, away from direct face-to-face contact with the public.
- Allowing staff to continue working from home if possible.
- Encouraging education and tacking misconceptions about the vaccine.
Many employers are facing issues and decisions, such as this one, which are constantly evolving and changing due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Coodes’ Employment team is here to offer guidance and support on this and a wide range of other employment matters that are affecting businesses now and in the future.