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HR calls for clarity on COVID vaccinations

The UK government has been urged to outline its guidance on employer rights when it comes to COVID-19 vaccinations.

On Monday, HR consultancy firm McLean HR outlined its legal and ethical concerns for employers in a letter to Alok Sharma MP, secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy.

In order to plan ahead for workers to return to the workplace following widespread introduction of the vaccine, it said employers would need to know whether they can ask for proof of vaccination from employees.

It also asked whether employees would be able to refuse to attend the workplace until all colleagues have been vaccinated, and whether vaccination can be added as a requirement to employment contracts.

“The consequences of getting it wrong are significant. No employer wants to find themselves facing a legal challenge due to either poor advice or the absence of such advice,” the authors stated.

UK law currently prevents vaccination from being made mandatory in UK workplaces, and the government has so far stated that has no plans to change this legislation.

By contrast, last weekend the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruled that employers can implement and enforce mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies for certain employees.

Though there are exceptions, including on religious grounds or for those with medical disabilities, the law states that there are some occupations, like healthcare professionals, in which vaccination could be a job-related requirement.

Nikola Southern, partner at Kingsley Napley, told HR magazine: “This guidance is not applicable here and the position is not the same. The UK government has not legislated for vaccination against COVID-19 to be mandatory so it is likely to be risky for employers to insist on vaccination even for staff in close contact with vulnerable people.”

Despite it not being a legal requirement in the UK, the majority of HR leaders responding to a Gartner survey earlier this month said will be encouraging employees to get vaccinated against the virus in the months ahead.

Unless the government’s position on COVID-19 vaccination changes, Southern advised employers that the best course of action wold be to consider how to achieve voluntary vaccination from their workforce.