Earlier this month Pimlico Plumbers, a London plumbing company who employ around 400 people, announced that they were seeking legal advice (not from View HR!) regarding the possibility of re-drafting employment contracts to require employees to have a Covid-19 vaccine if available, which soon became known as a “no jab, no job” policy.
This is not the first time that the company has found itself in the media spotlight due to their employment practices; in August last year, Chief Executive Charlie Mullins criticised employees reluctant to return from furlough leave (although some employees may have very valid reasons, which we will cover in an upcoming blog), and prior to that they faced a long-running case regarding worker status, which was resolved by the Supreme Court in 2018.
Mr Mullins has stated that if the jab became available privately, he would be happy to pay for employees to receive it, and the Pimlico Plumbers website asks:
If an employee fails to follow a reasonable management instruction, such as following health and safety procedures, this may be considered to be insubordination and potential gross misconduct (depending on circumstances), and so is the Pimlico Plumbers approach one that more employers should consider?
The situation is not so simple. Employers need to take into account that there are some groups for whom the vaccine may not be suitable. These include:
- Pregnant employees – gov.uk states that: “The vaccines have not yet been tested in pregnancy, so until more information is available, those who are pregnant should not routinely have this vaccine.”
- Employees with certain allergies – the current medical advice is that people who have had an allergic reaction to the first dose of a particular Covid vaccine, or who previously had reactions to any of its components, should not receive it.
- In some cases, individuals taking other medications will need to have satisfactory test results to have the Covid vaccine administered.
By refusing to offer work to somebody who has not had a jab as the result of one of the above, employers may risk falling foul of the Equality Act 2010, by indirectly discriminating against somebody as a result of pregnancy or a disability. There may also be situations where individuals who refuse the vaccine are protected under the Equality Act on the basis of their religion or philosophical belief, however, this is a complex area and Personnel Today note that:
“Anti-vaxxers subscribing to the myriad of conspiracy theories doing the rounds are unlikely to be protected because they have to show that their beliefs are worthy of respect in a democratic society.”
As such, as the vaccine becomes more widely available, it is appropriate for employers to:
- Encourage staff to be vaccinated;
- Share information from reliable sources to challenge myths and reluctance;
- Seek to understand concerns and support employees, e.g. by being flexible to enable them to attend vaccination appointments;
- Ensure relevant measures are in place to protect employee health and safety, to include for people who have a valid reason for not being vaccinated;
- Carefully consider potential disciplinary action on a case-by-case basis.
However, a blanked “no jab, no job” policy may be problematic.
The team here at ViewHR are on hand to answer questions any employers may have about this issue, including any workplace conflicts that may arise between employees with strong and contrasting beliefs!