25th February 2021
After Boris Johnson’s road map announcement on 22 February, the UK can start to look forward to the months ahead as restrictions gradually lift and some normality can return.
We heard during the Prime Minister’s announcement how this road map has been possible broadly because to the success of our vaccination programme so far. Over 18 million people have been given their first dose of the covid-19 vaccine, hospital admissions have decreased and deaths with covid-19 are dropping.
Employers may be concerned about how they can safely return to ‘business as usual’ in the coming weeks. One consideration is to ensure that all their workforce take up the vaccine. This would give peace of mind that colleagues could return to working closely together, reduce sickness levels and any time off work for isolating or shielding. It would also help to create a low risk working environment for customers, contractors or visitors to the business.
Employers can amend their employment contracts to include a clause that employees should be vaccinated. As with any changes to terms and conditions of employment, the employee should agree in writing to accept the new contract. Employers will also need to be mindful of how they will manage situations where employees may not want to have the vaccine out of personal choice or situations where their workforce are in the younger, low risk category who are not due to have their vaccine until the summer.
For new employees, this could be written into their contract from the start. However, as medical questionnaires are not carried out until after a job offer has been made, care needs to be given so that successful applicants are not later having their job offer retracted based on their medical circumstances or choices. This could leave you open to a discrimination claim.
Contracts can be changed, but as the vaccine is not mandatory by law, it is not possible to enforce that people have the vaccine. Employers need to tread very carefully if they are to stipulate that their staff must be vaccinated. It is worth approaching this is a positive way, not by threatening job security or making people feel pressured.
Consider the types of roles people have, are they in contact with the general public? Are they required to work in close proximity to others or share equipment? Is travel required for business? There may be cases where the vaccine could be regarded as essential for their role in order to protect them and others. For example, someone working in a care home looking after elderly patients or a salesperson / receptionist who is in contact with the public each day.
Issues could arise where people with roles that do not necessarily put them at risk, perhaps home-workers or those who work in a private office show resistance. Another potential risk for employers is where members of their team object to the vaccine on the basis of their religion or beliefs. There may also be staff who have strong objections to the vaccine for personal reasons or medical reasons.
An employer could face a painful discrimination claim if they were to terminate employment or give cause for staff to raise a grievance due to insisting on the vaccine or treating them differently due to their views.
Employers need to give some thought to how they will store and use medical information, such as vaccination records. Data regarding health is classed as ‘special category data’ under the UK GDPR and the Data Protection Act 2018 and is held to a higher standard than other personal data.
Remember, the covid vaccination may require an annual booster – this is yet to be confirmed but may mean that you end up having quite large medical records and increased admin time in collating and storing this information on a regular basis.
This could be a sensitive topic to address with staff, so it is important to get your communication right from the beginning.
Be clear about why you are amending contracts or only employing new staff who are vaccinated. Highlight the benefits that having a fully vaccinated workforce will bring for everyone, be open about how information will be stored and respect concerns, dealing with them in a fair and reasonable way.
Employers may wish to consider organising private vaccinations or allowing staff to have paid time off to receive their vaccination. This could be an incentive and also make life easier for your staff. It is also recommended to share useful information with staff so that they understand the facts, advantages and process for the different vaccinations available. There is a lot of false information on the internet and social media – providing trusted sources of information to staff can help them find the information they are looking for.
Whilst employers are able to put a clause into their employment contracts, it is worth evaluating whether this is required and how the process will be managed.
If you are looking for advice on amending employee contracts or managing any litigation from enforcing a ‘no jab, no job’ policy, then please reach out to our specialist Employment Law Team who can help you navigate a way forward.
Call us on 01256 844888, email firstname.lastname@example.org or speak to our online chat assistant who is available to take your details and arrange a call back at a suitable time.
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The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.
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