Hot topic part one: Mandatory COVID vaccinations at work
The UK’s roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine began in December 2020. In response London plumbing firm, Pimlico Plumbers, has said it will be introducing a so called ‘no jab, no job’ policy as soon as possible, making vaccination a term of employment.
Chairman Charlie Mullins added he would be prepared to pay for private immunisations for people at the firm that would be done on the company’s time.
As an end seems to be in sight for the pandemic, will policies like this become more common in the workplace? And is it lawful, and ethical, for HR to do so?
Caroline Smith, deputy general counsel, international, HireRight
“The most important thing for HR to be aware of is that there is no current or planned legislation to make vaccines compulsory.
“Whilst under various legislation and guidelines the government has the power to “prevent, control or mitigate the spread of infection” those powers do not extend to mandating medical treatment. This includes vaccines.
“A government move to introduce laws to make vaccination mandatory or employers attempting to force employees to be vaccinated run significant risk of claims, such as constructive dismissal or discrimination. However, with Pimlico Plumbers making a splash (pun intended) across the headlines we may now see the government issue guidance on this topic.
“The best an employer can do is encourage staff to have the vaccine on a voluntary basis. A good way to do this is to make available information about the vaccine and consider having a forum in place where staff can ‘ask an expert’ any questions they may have.
“Employers should also consider a consultation with its employee representatives about vaccinations to further encourage voluntary participation.”
Andrew Cullen, partner, McLean HR
“Like all thing’s employee related the devil is in the detail. Is the individual employee refusing to have the vaccine due to some religious or other deeply held view?
“Employees who are pregnant, have autoimmune or other underlying medical conditions, or are allergic to an ingredient in the vaccine are recommended not to get vaccinated. I would not want to dismiss someone and open the business to a potential claim of discrimination without fully exploring that detail.
“Whilst the current vaccines have high efficacy rates, I do not think they are 100% guaranteed to prevent either contracting the virus or passing it on to others.
"Consequently, I would prefer to see education programmes nationally, and in the workplace, to debunk some of the nonsense touted about vaccinations rather than making vaccination an obligation.
“I understand an individual business saying they wish to protect their employees and customers by enforcing vaccination, however, I think that in practice this blanket ‘no jab, no job’ approach will be hugely problematic.”
Check back tomorrow for part two of this hot topic.
This piece appears in the January/February 2021 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk