Can employers force employees to get vaccinated?
The UK’s Covid-19 vaccination programme is well under way, and the vast majority of people will be eagerly awaiting their jab, if they haven’t already had it. But what about employees who refuse vaccination? Can employers force them to get vaccinated?
Do employees have to be vaccinated against Covid-19?
Being vaccinated (whether against coronavirus or other viruses) is not a legal requirement, nor can it be made a condition of employment. However, depending on the type of organisation and work being carried out, employers can instruct employees to take the vaccine as a ‘reasonable instruction’. For example, those in the care sector would be instructed to get vaccinated so not to put vulnerable people under their care at risk.
For those working in other sectors where working from home is perfectly viable, making vaccination a ‘reasonable instruction’ would not be justifiable.
However, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 obliges employers to take reasonable steps to reduce workplace risks. This gives employers justification for encouraging employees to be vaccinated in order to protect themselves and their colleagues.
As with any employment matter, employers should communicate clearly and regularly with their employees. Employees should be kept informed on working practices and how they are keeping staff in offices safe, as well as receiving up-to-date Covid-19 safe policies and risk assessments.
Business owners should also seek legal advice from a specialist employment lawyer before trying to enforce any contractual requirements or instructions around vaccinations to avoid the risk of employees claiming for unfair dismissal.
Employees who are hesitant to get the Covid-19 vaccination vs. anti-vaxxers
The vast majority of the workforce will be open and keen to get vaccinated against coronavirus. However, there will be those who are either hesitant due to anxieties around the jab, or strongly disagree with the idea, i.e. anti-vaxxers.
It’s also worth noting that some people will be unable to have the vaccine, either straight away or at all, due to medical reasons.
It is an employer’s responsibility to provide employees with accurate and up-to-date information regarding the Covid-19 vaccination. This can be an organisation-wide email or via a link shared on an internal intranet site, for example. This not only sets a precedent amongst your organisation about what is acceptable, but will hopefully reassure those who are anxious about getting vaccinated.
Employers may find that anti-vaxxers amongst their workforce are sharing conspiracy theories or inaccurate reports, and so it’s important that senior management communicate scientific and legitimate information, and remind employees of what is expected of them in line with your internal policies.
Can employers dismiss anti-vaxxer employees?
Even if internal communications demonstrate your stance on vaccinations as an employer and you are sharing scientific research, some anti-vaxxers may be intent on spreading their beliefs to colleagues.
In these cases, employers should consider each case carefully, and speak to the person about their views to try and understand where the reluctance stems from, if possible.
If staff refuse vaccination, employers could look to implement alternative measures such as asking these employees to work from home, or to use PPE whilst in the office.
Do employers have the right to ask employees about their vaccination status?
Employers can ask about an employee’s vaccination status, however, there should be a good reason for needing to know, e.g. to ensure the safety of others. This information falls within special category data under GDPR and the Data Protection Act 2018 and should be protected accordingly.
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