COVID Vaccination in the Workplace – FAQ’s for Employers

By Rachel Davis

Principal Associate

Nearly 40% of UK employers want to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine in the workplace with a view to managing a safer and quicker return to business as usual.

However, compelling an employee to be vaccinated against their wishes raises a number of complex moral and legal issues and employers are advised to tread carefully.

Read our FAQs below before considering whether to enforce vaccines across your workforce.

Can we require employees to have the Covid-19 vaccination?

Vaccination against COVID-19 is not mandatory and it is for an employer to consider the feasibility of such a policy in their workplace.  There is no general rule at present and it all depends on the type of business and individual circumstances of the employee. For example, it is likely to be considered more reasonable to ask a care worker who deals with vulnerable patients to have the vaccine than it would be to ask a remote office worker to do so.

The best course of action is to consult with staff and encourage them to have the vaccination through education and awareness to help them make an informed choice.

What is the risk to the business of requiring employees to have the vaccination?

Compelling employees or job applicants to have the vaccination, or disciplining or dismissing employees for refusing to have the vaccination, is likely to leave employers open to claims for breach of contract, unfair dismissal, constructive dismissal and discrimination claims.

Employees who feel forced to choose between their job or taking the vaccine could end up resigning and claiming for constructive dismissal.

Some employees may have specific reasons for not taking the vaccine such as if they’re pregnant, have a medical condition or have certain religious beliefs, which would justify their refusal for having the vaccination and give them protection from certain forms of discrimination.

What if an employee refuses to have the vaccination?

Failure of an employee to follow an employer’s reasonable and lawful instruction is generally grounds for disciplinary action and a potentially fair reason for dismissal.  However, in this new area, employers should tread carefully and consider the grounds for refusal on a case-by-case basis before taking action.

If an employee refuses to have the vaccination, it’s worth thinking about extra measures to keep them safe, such as ensuring the workplace is COVID-secure, putting strict social distancing measures in place or allowing them to continue to work from home where possible.

What if an employee refuses to tell us their vaccination status?

If mandating vaccination, employers will need to ask employees to disclose their vaccination status.  This information would be classed as special category data and should only be processed after a data protection impact assessment (DPIA) has been carried out.  A failure by an employee to disclose their vaccination status can be treated as a disciplinary matter.

How should we deal with disputes between colleagues over vaccination?

This can be a tricky area particularly in situations where employees are uncomfortable working alongside colleagues who have not been vaccinated or where employees are spreading misinformation and encouraging colleagues not to get vaccinated.  This issue will require careful handling and employers are advised to communicate with the workforce and remind employees to be sensitive and aware of the diversity of opinion that is likely to exist within the workplace.

Do we need a vaccination policy?

A vaccination policy isn’t a legal requirement, but it is advisable to have a policy in place to explain and communicate your approach. It is also useful to clarify the organisation’s stance on vaccination, how vaccinations and time off for appointments are recorded and help with handling workplace disputes.

For more information and to find out how we can help you, please contact us on 0345 646 0406 or fill in our online enquiry form and a member of our Team will be in touch.