Pimlico Plumbers advert risks discrimination claims

London plumbing firm Pimlico Plumbers has launched its first advert for a job that lists vaccination against coronavirus as a requirement.

Pimlico chairman Charlie Mullins told HR magazine that as far as the firm was concerned this move was a "no brainer".

He said: “It was always the intention to bring in the policy once most of the population had been jabbed and that is the case now, thanks to the huge success of the vaccine rollout.

“Insisting all new workers are vaccinated is nothing more than common sense. Ultimately, it will protect my staff and our customers from this awful virus and will also help get the economy heading in the right direction.”

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Though the firm has been encouraging current employees to get vaccinated, Mullins added that it would not be forcing anyone to have the jab.

“There are plenty of places that will take on people who are opposed being vaccinated for the sake of being difficult, but Pimlico isn’t one of them,” he said.

Pimlico’s so-called ‘no jab, no job’ policy may yet open the firm up to further scrutiny from lawmakers and critics however.

Speaking to HR magazine Kate Palmer, HR advice and consultancy director at Peninsula Group, said the difficulty is that employers’ stances on the vaccine are currently in uncharted territory.

She said: “The difficulty for employers will be that each situation will be unique to its own circumstances so it is difficult to pull out trends.”

Though not unlawful to advertise COVID-19 vaccination as a requirement for a job, it may put the firm at risk of discrimination claims, according to Nikola Southern, employment partner at Kingsley Napley.

Southern told HR magazine: “Making vaccination a condition of employment is likely to be less risky than mandating vaccination for existing employees because there will be no risk of unfair dismissal claims.

“Job applicants do, however, have the right not to be discriminated against because of protected characteristics such as disability, race, religious or philosophical belief.”

Before rejecting an application from someone who has not been vaccinated, Southern advised organisations to carefully consider if the vaccine requirement is justified or not.  

Protecting the health and safety of other employees and customers may make vaccine requirements justifiable, however, she added: “If that protection can be achieved through less intrusive means such as regular testing, social distancing and mask wearing, the organisation may not be able to justify its approach.

“Given that the government is not requiring vaccination, even on the frontline, organisations may struggle to justify their approach.”

Proof of vaccination status is also a special category under UK GDPR, so firms would need to prove they have legitimate reason to request and/or store that information.

Although staff and customer wellbeing may again prove to be a legitimate reason, Southern warned: “This reason is likely to be subject to serious scrutiny.”