Elisabeth Joyce, vice president of advisory in the Gartner HR practice, said that the rollout of the vaccine will lead to an onslaught of questions for people professionals.
She said: “Questions on if they can or should require employees to be vaccinated, what the employer’s responsibility is in helping employees and their families get vaccinated, and how the release of vaccines impacts their return to the workplace strategy will be asked.”
Research firm Gartner’s survey of 130 HR leaders also found 90% of respondents plan to allow employees to work remotely at least part of the time even after the COVID-19 vaccine is widely adopted.
Speaking to HR magazine, Sophie Forrest, founder and managing director of HR support company ForrestHR, said HR should inform staff of the benefits the vaccine could offer.
“The role of HR and people teams should be to pragmatically provide the evidence to enable staff to make an informed decision and to provide the support systems to enable staff to work productively and positively however they want to structure their working lives, aligned with operational goals and needs.
“While choosing whether to take advantage of the vaccination programme remains a matter of personal choice, it will be hard for most organisations to make a business case to force staff to have the vaccine.”
Forrest suggested employees may be willing to take the vaccine without any encouragement from HR.
“Most employees will be keen to take advantage of the vaccine to enable them to see their colleagues and work, at least some of the time, in shared work spaces, with all the benefits that this social interaction brings,” she said.
Matt Jenkin, partner and head of employment law at Moorcrofts, said HR’s guidance will be somewhat limited.
He said: “It’s no surprise that employers are actively encouraging employees to have the COVID-19 vaccination. While employers can encourage take up, it is difficult to see how they could force an employee to be vaccinated.
“This is especially the case in the absence of the government mandating vaccination in the UK population. Forcing employees to be vaccinated raises a whole range of issues and would expose an employer to a number of claims, both civil and criminal.”
Luke Bowery, partner in the employment law practice at law firm Burges Salmon, explained that without government legislation requiring vaccination to be in an office employers can not make it mandatory.
Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “Without a statutory right requiring vaccination, employers that want to make the vaccination mandatory for employees will need to look to other means, for example, by introducing a specific provision in the contract of employment.
“This may be possible for new recruits but for existing employees, employers may want to seek to rely on the requirement to be vaccinated as a lawful and reasonable instruction.”
He added: “The question of what is reasonable will be fact sensitive for every workforce and workplace, and is likely to depend on the risk and implications of COVID-19 in the particular setting.”
The survey also found that 62% HR leaders said they were planning to continue all safety measures they have put in place once a vaccine is available.
Nearly one-third of HR respondents noted they would no longer require masks in the workplace nor enforce social distancing in high-traffic areas after a vaccine.