Last week (15 February) justice secretary Robert Buckland said that it may be legal for businesses to insist that new staff be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of their employment.
However, Buckland added it was unlikely employers would be able to apply the same mandate to current employees, as it would need to be written into their contracts which would be subject to discussion.
In January, London plumbing firm, Pimlico Plumbers, faced an onslaught of criticism when chairman Charlie Mullins said it would be introducing a ‘no jab, no job’ policy as soon as possible, making the vaccination a term of employment.
So, what does HR make of the possibility that the so-called ‘no jab, no job’ policy could now be legal?
Minefield of problems
Tony Prevost, HR director EMEA at e-learning and support provider Skillsoft, told HR magazine that a vaccination clause in an employment contract could cause more problems than solutions.
He said: “As employers turn their attention to getting employees back into the office, mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations present a minefield of compliance and discrimination issues.
“Employers are now in uncharted territory and contracting with employees based on their medical history may have far reaching consequences. This issue is much more complex than ‘no jab, no job’."
HR teams’ number one priority is to make sure the working environment is safe for everyone, Prevost added.
“Lots of organisations want their employees to come back to the office, particular companies that have signed long leases, but the concern for employers is regulating how people come back to a physical workplace safely and legally,” he said.
Encouragement not enforcement
Jeya Thiruchelvam, managing editor at XpertHR, said that though encouraging employees to take the vaccine is fine, forcing them is not.
She said: “If employees do not agree to a vaccine, employers are limited in what they can do. They could say that refusing a vaccination may lead to disciplinary action, but such a policy is likely to cause employee relation problems.
“Disciplinary action for refusing to take the vaccine could risk complaints relating to discrimination because of religion or belief, disability and age; constructive dismissal; and human rights issues.”
Thiruchelvam recommended that employers educate their employees on the vaccine first before making any demands.
“Take a cautious approach and encourage take up of the vaccine through education and awareness, but ensure employees understand it is a personal decision with no pressure from the organisation,” she said.
Jennifer Locklear, chief people officer at ConnectWise, thinks that most employers will struggle to decide whether or not they will use new contracts to compel employees to be vaccinated.
Speaking to HR magazine she said: “If the employee does not require it, are you subjecting your them to unnecessary risk?
“There are more questions than answers at this point, but employers should start thinking through their process and about any future policies they may want or have to put in place as a result.”
Like most things COVID-19 related, the key, Locklear added, will most likely lie in flexibility.
“Employers who have flexible policies around remote working will have an easier time navigating this decision.
“Industry will also have a heavy-hand in mandatory vaccination policies such as healthcare, education, hospitality, etc,” she said.