Deadline passes for care workers to receive mandatory first jab

Under new rules effective from 11 November, all those working in Care Quality Commission-registered, adult care-home in England must be fully vaccinated or be medically exempt.

This means that 16 September was the last day for care workers to receive their first vaccine in order to comply with the eight-week interval between jabs, or face dismissal. 

However, a new study published yesterday found that many care sector employers are unsure of how to proceed for those who either refuse to have the vaccine or who are still between jabs on 11 November. 

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The study, carried out by HR employment law and health and safety advisor, Citation revealed that 60% of 185 respondents said they were worried about what processes to take for unvaccinated workers.

Furthermore, 60% had concerns that compulsory vaccinations would hinder recruitment and cause retention issues, although with 40% stating they didn’t know their existing retention rates, often complicated by the use of temporary and agency staff, monitoring the impact would prove difficult. 

Head of employment law at Citation, Gill McAeer, said that employers must clearly explain the consequences of not taking the vaccine and that employees will need to choose between voluntary redundancy or dismissal, the latter of which must be undertaken adhering to due process.

She highlighted the importance of organising unpaid or annual leave for those with only one jab by 11 November, with workers unable to enter the workplace until they are double-jabbed. 

The government’s impact statement on the compulsory rules estimated it could result in up to 70,000 workers leaving the care sector, compounding the shortfall of around 120,000 nationally that existed before the strain caused by the pandemic. 

HRD at Sunrise Senior Living, Sharon Benson said while 90% of their staff have had both jabs, the situation was heartbreaking where some were having to leave. 

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “We’ve had informal conversations to make sure they know what will happen if they don’t have it and then we have to move to a formal process. We can’t break the law.

“It’s awful. Some colleagues have been with us for 10 years and have been amazing through the pandemic, helping to keep us safe. But through their own fears they just don’t want it. It’s heart-breaking for the GMs who are losing valuable team members.”

She said that staff retention had actually increased over the course of last year, with the company closing its homes two weeks earlier than most, providing hot meals for staff and mini-buses to keep them safe. 

“People think there is a recruitment challenge. I try to view it as a retention challenge,” she said.

“However, we will have to recruit and we are going out to university students with an ‘earn while you learn' campaign where they will get flexible shifts and a possible full-time job when they finish. We’re also targeting the more mature market who may be looking to do something different and looking to give something back. We are trying to create our own new market for talent.” 

Rachel Suff, senior employment relations adviser at the CIPD, said care sector organisations that now had to adhere to mandatory vaccinations could rely on the legal change, but for other employers outside of that industry the landscape was far more fraught and unclear.

“We recommend that vaccination is encouraged but not enforced across workforces and that employers take the responsible approach and help to educate by putting out trusted and factual information about the vaccines,” she said.

“To try to make it compulsory as an employer outside of the care industry means you could be discriminating. Some people can’t or don’t want to have it, for example for religious or spiritual grounds, even for phobia reasons, and those people may bring tribunals if an employer attempts to enforce it. There are human rights issues too,” she added. 

“Even though the motivation on the part of the employer may be in some ways understandable to uphold health and safety, it is much better to deal with people’s hesitancy through encouragement and education.”