Mandatory Covid vaccinations for care home staff
The Government has announced that Covid vaccinations will be mandatory for most care home staff. Philip Sayers, solicitor in Coodes’ Employment team, explains how employers should respond.
People working in Quality Care Commission (CQC) registered care homes will have to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 under proposed new legislation. The Government has published its response to a recent public consultation on whether vaccinations should be mandatory for care home staff.
If the legislation is approved by Parliament, care home staff, with some rare exemptions, will need to receive both Covid-19 vaccinations by October in order to continue in their roles.
The move could prove controversial. Fifty seven percent of people who responded to the consultation said that they did not agree with mandatory vaccinations for care home staff. It could also create challenges for care home managers, who already face difficulties in recruiting staff.
Who is exempt from mandatory vaccinations?
The Government has made it clear that anyone working with service users in care homes will need to be vaccinated. This not only includes care home employees and agency staff, but people working on site, such as visiting healthcare professionals, tradespeople, inspectors and hairdressers. It also includes those working on a voluntary basis.
There will be a 16-week grace period to allow some flexibility for workers who are not yet fully vaccinated by October.
There will be a few rare exceptions on medical grounds. Those with a condition or allergy covered in Public Health England’s Green Book, which means they cannot be safely vaccinated, will be exempt. This includes anyone who experienced anaphylaxis following their first Covid-19 vaccination. In reality, however, this only covers a very small number of people. Most care home staff will therefore need to be fully vaccinated to be permitted to continue with their roles.
What should care home managers do to prepare for mandatory vaccinations?
The Government proposal is yet to be approved by Parliament, but employers in the care home sector will need to ensure they understand their new obligations.
The results of the consultation suggest that many people oppose compulsory vaccinations. Care home managers will therefore need to carefully consider how they can best communicate the legislation to staff. Employers should also look out for more detail over the coming months and maintain an open dialogue with their employees.
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What can employers do if staff refuse the vaccine?
Employers will need to be prepared for the possibility of some staff not agreeing to receive Covid-19 vaccinations. It is important to understand that an employer cannot force an employee to undergo a medical procedure, including a vaccination. However, employers will need to comply with the new legislation.
Care home managers should first of all consider whether the individual could be redeployed to a new position, which does not require them to be fully vaccinated. This could be an administrative position that does not involve working directly with care home residents, for example.
If there is not scope to offer the staff member a different role, the employer would then have to dismiss them. They must follow the right procedure to ensure the dismissal is fair and reasonable.
Could employers face discrimination claims?
Over the last few months, there has been some concern that employers could face discrimination claims as a result of dismissing staff who are not vaccinated. Some have questioned whether someone who disagrees with vaccinations on principle could bring about an unfair dismissal claim on the grounds of philosophical beliefs, which is a protected characteristic in the Equality Act 2010.
There is a chance that someone with a disability that means they are not comfortable with being vaccinated could bring a claim against their employer. As long as they follow the Government guidance on this new legislation, employers should not be at risk.
We are expecting more detail to come out on this proposed change over the coming months. For example, we do not yet know how staff will be expected to prove to their employers that they have been vaccinated. If you are concerned about the impact on your care home, start planning now and get expert advice to help ensure you understand your obligations.