Answering your COVID vaccine questions

March 23, 2021

With the four-stage roadmap out of lockdown in England now firmly in place, our focus has turned to getting employees back to their workplace as safely as possible. A key factor in keeping everyone safe is the COVID vaccine, and as the next phase of the rollout begins it is likely that the offering of vaccine appointments will coincide with employees returning to work.

But as an employer the inevitable questions or concerns some employees might have about taking the vaccine may put you in an awkward position. We’re here to help advise how you can avoid vaccine-related issues with employees, including the following:

Can I make staff vaccines compulsory?

No one is required to take the vaccine by law, so this it is unlikely that an employer can insist their staff are vaccinated although a lot depends on the workplace, nature of work and the working environment.

For instance, if you work with vulnerable people (in the care sector for example), it is possible that as the vaccination programme roll out draws to its initial end, we may see specific requirements for certain staff who carry out certain duties or job roles, or work within specific sectors, to demonstrate that they have received up to date vaccines that will protect them and those they work with. (or where they are unable to receive a vaccine that they have made their employer aware of a reasonable explanation for why not and other measures have been put in place or considered)

However, it is likely to be extremely unusual for those who work outside the health or care sector to have clauses in contracts, now or in the future that will oblige them to have vaccinations in order to enable them to work. If there is no heightened risk to your staff or the public, you can’t insist that employees take the vaccine, only encourage them to consider it. Moreover, until, or unless vaccines become commercially available it will be very difficult to enforce “no jab, no job” provisions.

What do I do if an employee refuses to have the vaccine?

While you might strongly encourage all staff to get the vaccine if they are able to do so, you should acknowledge that some employees may have concerns about the coronavirus vaccine for a number of reasons, including:

• they are worried about an allergic reaction, or other side-effects;

• they have a health condition;

• they are pregnant or breastfeeding, or thinking about getting pregnant;

• they do not think the vaccine is safe, or effective, or necessary;

• for religious or ethical reasons.

All of which are valid reasons to refuse the vaccine and if an employer were to treat them less favourably as a result there would be risk of discrimination. For this reason,  added to the fact that the government vaccination programme is not mandatory, giving your new recruits or existing staff no choice but to have the vaccine, even if it is with good intentions, could open up a host of potential legal issues and result in legal action.

How can I encourage my staff to take the vaccine?

It is both reasonable and understandable that employees will have questions or concerns about the vaccine, as an employer you can help ease concerns and increase the likelihood of your employees accepting the vaccine by:

• Identifying why you feel the vaccination is important. This can be done by sharing accurate, reputable information about the vaccine. For example, NHS or WHO resources

• Allowing staff to take appointments during work hours, and considering whether you would offer payment for such time off.

• Offering sick pay, or enhanced pay for individuals who experience side effects after having the vaccine (you might wish to limit this to a fixed period of time)

• Being the example – talking openly about your own plans to get the vaccine

• Outlining the specific benefits to the your business of the successful roll-out of the vaccination programme (for example enabling you to reopen the premises, improving customer confidence and allowing staff to return to the workplace

Should my business have a vaccine policy for staff?

It is not a requirement for businesses to have a vaccine policy, but it might be something to consider summarising your organisations position and principles.

Having a policy in place is a fantastic way to make management’s position on vaccines clear to employees. Especially now that COVID-19 is ingrained our lives and regular vaccinations are likely to become the norm meaning that a policy would act as a record of employee guidance will help to avoid any confusion in the future.

If you choose to implement a vaccine policy, it should cover:

• Your business’ position on vaccines (whether you encourage employees to take it)

• What information you keep on record in regard to employee vaccines (data protection implications)

• Time off for appointments and pay if attending

• Whether employees need to provide proof of appointment

Want to discuss further?

Here at CoLaw, we can provide peace of mind for employers in regard to vaccine policies, employment tribunals and advice on how to approach conversations with employees who are against taking the vaccine. Give us a call on 01509 861262 or email us at hello@colaw.co.uk and one of our friendly team for more advice and support.

The information provided in all of our blogs reflects only a narrative of some elements to consider on the topic. The blogs do not contain considered legal advice and should not be relied upon as advice. Please see our website terms and conditions for full details of our disclaimer. If you are interested in obtaining advice, please contact one of our lawyers who will be happy and able to advise you on your own particular circumstances.