The COVID-19 vaccination programme is being hailed a great success and is the largest in our Country’s history. Over 17 million people in the UK have now received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine! As the Government have announced their target of all adults being offered the vaccine by 31st July, it seemed the right time for us to update our guidance on this area.
There has been a lot of press coverage over what employers can and cannot do and not all of it is clear, so this guidance is to offer you some guidance and current advice. This is a constantly changing area so please keep an eye out for any updates from us over the coming weeks, and possibly months.
Can I insist my employees have the vaccination?
This is a sensitive and controversial issue and the question has been asked many times over the last few months, both through the media and from our clients. There are many reasons why an individual may not want to have the vaccination, such as medical conditions or genuine beliefs.
In terms of employers insisting on employees’ having the vaccine, as yet there is no definitive answer – even advice from employment lawyers varies. Therefore, our guidance at the moment is to not go as far as insisting, but to do all you can to encourage people to have the vaccination (see sections below).
Our reason is that going as far as insisting suggests that if someone does not have the vaccination, their role in the company is in jeopardy. This could leave an employer exposed to various risks, including:
- human rights violations (in relevant sectors and employers);
- discrimination claims;
- unfair dismissal and / or breach of contract claims; to name the most obvious.
This is supported by ACAS who are also advising that insisting is high risk.
Of course, if an employer can demonstrate that they have acted reasonably due to the role not being able to be carried out if the employee has not had the vaccine, the risk will be lowered, although not eradicated altogether. However, this is yet to be tested and so we will wait to see, either in terms of test cases or, hopefully more guidance from the Government, of situations where it can be insisted upon.
What if my employees don’t want to have the vaccination?
We suggest that our clients encourage employees to have the vaccination by giving them as much information as possible.
The UK government have published an easy to read leaflet that gives accurate information about the COVID-19 vaccination programme. You can access this leaflet here
You may also wish to put in place awareness campaigns that focus on the benefits of having the vaccination. This could start with a letter to employees explaining why the company would prefer that everyone is vaccinated.
Can I offer my employees incentives if they agree to have the vaccination?
In America, some businesses, such as McDonalds and Target, are offering incentives such as paying employees to have the COVID-19 vaccination.
In the UK this may be considered an act of bribery and/or coercion, so we advise our clients to think very carefully before offering any kind of incentive. Employees should be able to make an informed choice as to whether or not they have the vaccination, based on accurate information and an understanding of the benefits and the implications it will have in returning to normal life. If they feel coerced into having the vaccination, this could amount to unfair treatment as we discussed above.
Will my employees need time off to attend vaccination appointments?
The likelihood is that if they are offered an appointment during their working hours, your employee will want time off to get vaccinated. We are advising all of our clients to offer paid, authorised, time off to attend vaccination appointments.
If you don’t already have one, we can help you to write a policy that gives your employees details of what they will be entitled to if they take time off to be vaccinated.
Will employees need time off after their vaccination?
As far as the current information states, employees should be able to resume all normal activities, including work, as long as they feel well following a vaccination. However, employees who are unwell after receiving a coronavirus vaccination should take sickness absence in the usual way.
There have been reports of a relatively small number of people having an allergic reaction to the vaccination. It is recommended that employers treat employees who have had these sorts of reactions with understanding and fairness, in regards to absence management.
What if my employees have strong views on the vaccination programme?
We recognise that the subject of the COVID-19 vaccination programme can be divisive and lead to the expression of strong opinions. It is important that you treat your employees with dignity and respect, whatever their decision, and that colleagues must follow the organisations bullying and harassment policy when expressing their opinions.
Should we create a policy?
To protect employees and your organisation, we do recommend that you create a policy that outlines the key information. This includes:
- stating that having the vaccination is the employee’s decision
- providing details of where they can obtain information about the vaccine
- giving the employees information on how to raise a complaint should they feel bullied, offended or concerned about a colleague’s behaviour in regard to this subject.
Can I make it a contractual requirement for new employees to be vaccinated?
In order for this to be considered reasonable, employers will need to be able to prove that if a new employee does not have the vaccination, to employ them would cause a real and severe risk to themselves and/or others.
So as part of their recruitment process, employers will need to be able to demonstrate what this risk is and why they cannot recruit someone who has not had the vaccination.
As with all the above guidance, this is also yet to be tested in terms of whether it would be defensible in any legal claim, so we urge caution.
We will update our guidance as and when the Government make any further announcements.
As always, if you need our help with this or any other HR advice then do call us on