As the number of people in the UK who have received the Covid-19 vaccine increases, the UK remains positive in its hugely successful roll out programme, as we dare to hope and look forward to a future beyond the pandemic. The UK’s ambitious vaccine programme, however, has raised a number of legal questions about employee rights and employer obligations, one of those being ” Can employers force staff to have the Covid-19 vaccine?”
Health Minister, Edward Argar, warned employers that they cannot force their employees to get a vaccine before returning to work. Edward Argar went on to state that vaccinations have to remain voluntary and there are other ways in which businesses can make their workplaces secure from the virus, and that the government do things by consent when it comes to vaccinations and that it has no plans, legal or otherwise, to mandate it to undertake particular activities.
As mentioned above, an employer cannot insist that their staff be vaccinated if they do not wish to do so. However, it may be within their rights – depending on the circumstances – to take action if staff do not wish to be vaccinated and they think there are good reasons why they should be. For example, this would particularly apply to those working in healthcare or care home settings. We are yet to see if in some circumstances, employees could in fact be dismissed for refusing the vaccination if it means they will present a threat to themselves, patients or service users.
Under current health and safety legislation, employers have a duty to protect the health of employees, anyone on their premises and anyone else affected by the business. Existing vaccination guidelines state that if a risk assessment finds a risk of exposure to biological agents and effective vaccines exist, employers should offer to provide immunisations to those who are not already immunised, however, employees are at liberty to refuse immunisation.
If employers want to make the Covid vaccine a contractual requirement, changes in the terms of the contract would need to be agreed by staff. Employers enforcing this change without employees’ express and implied agreement would be in breach of contract and employees would be entitled to resign and claim constructive unfair dismissal. Employers could find it difficult to show this change in terms as reasonable and may struggle to introduce this type of agreement for existing employees.
We would advise employers to talk with their staff about the vaccine and share the benefits of being vaccinated. If someone does not want to be vaccinated, the employer should listen to their concerns and be sensitive towards individual situations and keep any concerns confidential.
At Centric HR we can help you think through what is best for your workforce – for both existing and future employees and specifically for your industry. We also provide advice and pragmatic solutions and policies on how to engage with your people and gain mutual agreement wherever possible to protect you as the employer, your staff, clients, customers and suppliers.
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