Earlier this year, following media coverage of a controversial announcement by Pimlico Plumbers that they intended to introduce a “No Jab, No Job” policy, ViewHR released a blog on the potential HR implications of doing so, which is available here: https://viewhr.co.uk/no-jab-no-job/.
In recent weeks, there have been a number of developments on this topic. The context has changed, with government guidance that people should work from home where it is possible to do so being withdrawn, and Covid-19 vaccines being made available to everybody aged over 18. An initiative to encourage pregnant women to be vaccinated has also been launched; pregnant women are a group for whom guidance regarding Covid vaccines has changed.
Last week the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps appeared on Sky News and discussed the topic of employers requiring employees to be fully vaccinated before returning to the office, describing this as a “good idea”. He said that some firms would require employees to be fully vaccinated but added that legislation would not be passed to make it mandatory in most workplaces.
There are some workplaces where the government has seen fit to intervene, however; a requirement for staff in CQC-registered care homes to be fully vaccinated has been announced, to protect residents. However, in most workplaces, it is up to employers to follow the best guidance available at the time prior to implementing any new policies.
The Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) have issued detailed guidance on this topic. This states that:
“The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 obliges employers to take reasonable steps to reduce any workplace risks; this duty gives employers justification for encouraging their employees to be vaccinated to protect themselves and everyone else at the workplace.”
However, it also highlights that there are a range of valid reasons why somebody may choose or not be able to have the Covid vaccine. These could include people who have severe allergies, health conditions which make the vaccine unsuitable, or certain religious beliefs. By disadvantaging these employees in some fashion (such as by taking disciplinary action), an employer may risk discriminating against these individuals under the Equality Act 2010, based upon the protected characteristics of disability or religious or philosophical belief. As such, whilst encouraging employees to be vaccinated is fine, care needs to be taken.
This is a complex topic, and the context and guidance available is subject to regular updates, so please do follow the latest ViewHR blogs (https://viewhr.co.uk/blog/) for the latest news. At this time, our top five tips are:
- As part of planning for employees to return to the workplace, ensure that you undertake a Covid-safe risk assessment;
- Consider the reasonableness of and need for a requirement for vaccination related to your organisation/team members in the event that you are considering this;
- It is fine to encourage employees to be vaccinated as part of your Covid-safe measures, and as part of this you may consider measures such as allowing people time to attend vaccination appointments if needed, and debunking myths (especially if you have a member of staff who is spreading misinformation amongst colleagues);
- If an employee is not vaccinated and does not intend to be, take time to understand their individual circumstances and consider taking advice before deciding upon any course of action;
- Be fully aware of the risks surrounding discrimination and such Employment Tribunal claims.
The employment law implications around vaccination are a minefield – the ViewHR team are on hand for any queries, and so please get in touch if there is a scenario you would like to discuss.
*This information is correct on date of publication: 3rd August 2021.