We’re at the beginning of the end. The rollout of the vaccine means life is slowly returning back to normal. That means people will be going back to work. If your staff have been working from home, that means you might be bringing them back into an office, where they’ll be in close proximity to other people. Always worrying, when we are coming out of the backend of a pandemic.
For lots of companies, it’s been a difficult year. Many of them barely made it through. If this is you, you’ll be very concerned about another wave. You’ll want to do everything you can to prevent that from happening, including making sure you don’t have an outbreak in your office. So you might want absolutely everyone to have a vaccination in your office. But is that feasible? Can you force your employees to have the Covid19 vaccine?
This is an interesting and ethical topic of conversation and it’s riddled with issues, so make sure you take great care when discussing this with employees.
As far it stands
The short answer is no. You do not have a contractual right or the power to insist or compel your employees to get a covid-19 vaccine. If you want everyone vaccinated, there isn’t really anything you can do.
The government has not made it a legal requirement that people take a covid-19 vaccine, so it is still every individual’s choice whether or not they have it. Even though the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 gives the government the power to do what they need to in order to prevent and control an infection, they are not permitted to require that people undertake a medical procedure to do it, such as take a vaccination.
It should be noted here that the government are considering making it mandatory for people who work in elderly care homes to take a vaccination because of the vulnerability of the people they work with. There’s already an outcry about this, so the likelihood vaccinations will become completely compulsory is unlikely.
Can I encourage my staff to get a vaccine?
There is currently no legislation that says you can’t encourage your staff to get the vaccine, but you must be very careful to make sure you aren’t forcing them to do it, or misleading them. You can’t threaten their jobs, for example.
You can support your staff by discussing the benefits of getting one, for example. You could offer paid time off so that they can get it, or agree to give them paid leave if they suffer with some of the side effects of the virus.
But it is not ethical or legal to force your staff to have the virus. That’s because there are many reasons people choose not to take the vaccine – disability, age, religion and belief – and forcing them to have it when they don’t want to is against their human rights.
What if I try to force my staff to take the vaccination?
If you fire your staff because they won’t take the vaccination, you’ll likely be subject to accusations of unfair dismissal.
If you try to force your staff to take the vaccination – or if you imply you might fire them if they don’t – you could be subject to accusations of discrimination.
This is because there are protected persons who cannot have the vaccination for a variety of reasons, and to tell them that they have to is an act of discrimination.
Some religions do not allow vaccinations, or certain ingredients that might contradict their belief. To try to force someone to take a vaccination their religion forbids is an obvious act of discrimination.
Public health announcements have informed pregnant women they should not take the covid-19 vaccines. Trying to force a pregnant woman to take the vaccine is obviously against public health guidance, and insinuating people should have it is problematic because you might not yet know if someone is pregnant.
It’s a minefield
Aside from all of this, some people simply do not want it. It might be your ideal scenario that someone has it, but your hands are tied. The best you can do is to use the Acas guidance on promoting the vaccine to your staff members subtly and sensitively, and hoping enough of them take you up on the offer.
You might be worried about staff members who are vulnerable to covid-19 symptoms if they’re working with you and your other employees haven’t taken the vaccine. The latest guidelines do not instruct these people to stay home and shield. That means it is fine for them to come back to work, even if all of your employees have not had the vaccine.
But you should still have provisions in place. Masks and social distancing are effective ways of limiting the likelihood of transmission.
In this situation, it is best to follow guidance from the government. Do what you can to keep your staff safe to the best of your ability, and let them make decisions on vaccines for themselves.