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Employers should not dismiss unvaccinated employees

Last Friday (6 August) media company CNN fired three unvaccinated employees who violated company policy by coming to work unvaccinated against COVID-19.

According to the Guardian, when CNN’s president Jeff Zucker told staff about the firing, he reminded them that vaccines were mandatory when working in the US office or when they meet other employees.

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Suzanne Staunton, employment partner at JMW Solicitors, said instead of firing unvaccinated employees, UK companies should prepare for any eventuality by gathering data.

Research from LinkedIn found over 60% of UK employers haven’t made, and don’t intend to make, any adjustments for unvaccinated staff or those unwilling to return.

More than half (55%) also said they didn’t know if they had any employees who were unable to have the vaccination on health grounds.

Staunton said: “If an employer has assessed why they need to record employees’ vaccine status, what it will be used for, that there is a legal basis for capturing that data, and that capturing that data is necessary to meet those obligations, then they can lawfully ask their employees for their vaccination status.”

This data should be anonymised, Staunton warned, and only kept for as long as is necessary for its original purpose and is kept confidential. 

Staunton argued strict legal criteria needed to be met before employers can ask an employee about their vaccine status.

She said: “It would be very unwise for an employer to take any action against an employee who attended work unvaccinated.

“Should an employer seek to take action, they leave themselves open to discrimination claims on the basis of philosophical belief or disability.

“Therefore, employers should exercise extreme caution.”

HR teams have a vital role in handling the issue of vaccination in the workplace  and need to highlight data laws around collecting the information. 

If they are aware that there are staff who are unvaccinated, HR teams should also conduct a health and safety assessment and ensure all recommendations are put into place, said Staunton.

“This may mean insisting that employees wear PPE and maintain social distancing.

“These rules should apply universally, subject to usual exemptions, and not just to those who are unvaccinated, so as to avoid discrimination claims,” she said.