Question: We are an office-based employer in London. As an employer, we would like to make it compulsory for employees to have the COVID-19 vaccine. If they refuse and do not have a valid reason, and continue to refuse, then we would ultimately look at dismissing them. We know we have a health and safety responsibility to all employees, and we feel that this ensures we are fulfilling this obligation. Are there any risks in taking this approach?
advo hr says:
This is both a moral and legal question. It is important to note that as an employer, you do have health and safety obligations, forcing an employee to take a vaccine against their will is not fulfilling this obligation. Health and safety obligations can be fulfilled in many other ways, some of which include cleaning procedures, social distancing, temperature checks, testing, and providing PPE like visors, hand gel, screens or masks.
As it currently stands, members of the public should not be compelled to undergo any mandatory medical treatment. This includes vaccinations. A vaccination requires an individual’s informed and voluntary consent. Additionally, the vaccine is currently not available to all age groups. Other groups, such as pregnant women may be reluctant as they were previously advised not to get the vaccine until after birth, but are now being encouraged to take the vaccine.
If you were to try to force your employees to be vaccinated, not only could it give rise to human rights concerns, but it may also be discriminatory. For instance, if an employee’s anti-vaccination position could amount to a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010 and they argue that their belief was genuinely held and worthy of respect, then they may find success at a tribunal. Some may also make religious discrimination arguments which may also be protected under the Equality Act 2010.
If you are working in a sector that has no reason to enforce the vaccine, advo would advise you to encourage employees to get vaccinated by ensuring all employees have access to reliable information about the vaccine. If an employee has concerns, listen to them. You may also wish to allow employees paid time off for vaccination appointments.
advo will of course, keep you updated with any further information relating to the COVID-19 vaccine and steps to take in the workplace.