Vaccination Policies- To Mandate or Not?
All employers have health and safety duties to take reasonable steps to reduce workplace risks for their staff and vaccination is an important part of reducing the risk of COVID-19 being transmitted in the workplace.
Any employer contemplating introducing a COVID-19 vaccination policy will have to consider whether or not to make vaccination compulsory for those people who enter the workplace either as staff and visitors. This will be a particularly crucial issue for employers in high risk sectors where staff come into contact with vulnerable individuals (such as in the care sector).
The current ACAS advise is for employers to support staff in getting the vaccine without making it a requirement, and encourage them to do so by, for example, offering paid time off to attend vaccination appointments.
However if as some employers, you want to go further and impose a mandatory vaccination requirement there are a number a number of issues which will need to be addressed, including:
- The fact that it could be indirectly discriminatory against certain protected characteristics
- Vaccination is not suitable for everyone
- A vaccination requirement may be difficult to justify on health and safety grounds because the current advice is that vaccination is not a substitute for workplace COVID-secure measures which must still be complied with.
- Consultation with the staff either through workplace and health and safety representatives, or potentially trade unions, is likely to be required
- There are data protection implications of requiring employees to provide information on their vaccination status, verifying its accuracy, and retaining that data
There can be no one size fits all answer to this as every employer will be different but as an alternative and without the risks of introducing a mandatory vaccination programme it is possible for employers to introduce a policy which encourages the workforce to get vaccinated against COVID-19. It is important to note that an employer with a voluntary policy for existing workers who wants to make it a contractual requirement for new recruits to be vaccinated may face similar legal issues and challenges as highlighted above.
It is also very important to remember that current government guidance is that everyone, including those who have been vaccinated, must continue to follow social distancing guidance, wear a face mask and wash their hands thoroughly and frequently. Vaccinated individuals must also follow the current guidance on testing and self-isolation if they develop COVID-19 symptoms. Employers must also continue to follow the applicable COVID-19 secure guidelines until further notice .
The position and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines and related guidance is rapidly evolving. As this issue and available information continues to develop it will be very important for all employers to monitor the latest information and recommendations from the government and public health authorities regarding COVID-19 vaccines and modify their policies and protocols as necessary.
Should you have any questions or need to discuss any issues around vaccination and COVID safety within your workplace and related staff issues do contact Andrea Tishler or Ashley Holden in our employment team.