The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted businesses all around the world, and the news of the rollout of multiple vaccines will be welcomed by all, promising a gradual return to normality. However, questions are being asked of the rights employers could have to enforce mandatory vaccinations for employees.
Professor Chris Whitty has warned that the pandemic will not vanish with the rollout of the vaccine, and there may be lockdowns required next winter to help curb a resurgence of the coronavirus, according to the Evening Standard.
While remote working is likely to be a feature of UK worker’s lives going forward, some employers may prefer to see a return to the office, and many UK employees, particularly in frontline roles, will be unable to work from home.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA) obliges employers to take reasonable steps to reduce any workplace risks. However, under current UK legislation, members of the public cannot be compelled to undergo vaccination, and an individual’s consent must be obtained before the issuance of any vaccine.
But with the introduction of a vaccine, to what extent can employers compel employees to get the jab? Some may consider making compulsory vaccination a contract clause, but the Equality Act 2010 (EqA) protects religious and personal views employees may have against vaccinations, and such a clause may open up employers to discrimination claims or claims for unfair dismissal.
Should an employer insist that, for the safety of others, un-vaccinated workers would not be allowed to work from the office or attend events, it could still carry a risk of discrimination claims.
It may be that employers will take an approach similar to that of the flu vaccine, but providing information about the availability of the jab, encourage employees to take it, and make arrangements for the vaccine to be provided through healthcare providers.
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