Nearly 42 million people in the UK have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccination, and just over £30 million have received both doses.
As the vaccine roll-out programme has progressed, there has been a lot of debate about whether it will be compulsory for any workers to have the vaccine and whether employers can require their employees to take up the vaccine.
Compulsory Covid-19 vaccinations in the care sector
In April 2021, the Department of Health and Social Care conducted a consultation and found that although staff at all eligible care homes had been offered a jab, 47% of English care homes for older people had more than a fifth of staff yet to be vaccinated. In this sector, there have been more than 40,000 deaths involving Covid-19.
Now The Guardian and the BBC are reporting that Covid-19 vaccinations are going to be compulsory for staff in care homes for the elderly with an official announcement expected in the next few days and consultations on similar requirements for other health and care staff to be undertaken.
Employers in the health and care sectors will be very keen for their staff to benefit from a Covid-19 vaccine. Having a full complement of vaccinated employees will mean a dramatic reduction in the risk of the virus and less concern for the employer when it comes to transmission to vulnerable patients and service users and to others in the workplace. That being said, it might not necessarily be that simple.
The reports indicate that care staff will be given 16 weeks to have the jab or face being moved away from frontline duties, or where that isn’t possible, losing their jobs. Those who cannot have the jab on medical grounds will be exempt.
The worry for the care sector is the impact this might have on recruitment and staff retention; given that there is already a shortage of staff in this sector.
The detail of how this is to be implemented remains to be seen but this unprecedented move could prove unpopular with care staff who do not wish to have the vaccine.
Advice for employers in the care sector now
Until these proposals are implemented, we continue to recommend to employers in the care sector that they encourage their staff to be vaccinated, rather than take any steps to insist on this if their staff members are reluctant.
We’d advise our clients to encourage their employees to get vaccinated by ensuring staff have access to reliable information about the vaccine, so they’re able to make an informed choice, and even to allow paid time off for vaccination appointments.
What about other sectors, does this create a precedent for a “no jab, no job” policy?
An employer cannot compel an employee to be vaccinated if they do not wish to be so. However, it may be within the employer’s rights – depending on the circumstances – to take action if the employee is not going to be vaccinated and the employer thinks there are good reasons why you should be. In some circumstances, employees could in fact be dismissed for refusing the vaccination if it means they will present a threat to others.
If an employer is insisting that an employee should take up the vaccine but the worker is unsure, then they should flag and discuss any concerns they have with their employer and see what can be agreed upon. Unless someone is employed in a sector and/or a job role where there are pressing health and safety reasons for them to have the vaccine, an employer is not likely to be able to insist that the employee gets it or be able to take action against them for not doing so.
However, it’s always worth bearing in mind that employees who have less than two years’ service do not have the right to claim unfair dismissal – except in certain limited cases – and that those who provide their services on a self-employed or zero-hours basis might also be less protected from their employer’s decisions.