Can an employer require an employee to be vaccinated against Covid-19?
As the vaccination programmes are rolled out, we have been asked by a number of clients as to whether they can enforce their employees to be vaccinated. These are my thoughts on this interesting topic:
- The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 obliges employers to reduce workplace risks. To meet those duties, it is likely to be reasonable for employers to ask employees to be vaccinated. Further, employees have a duty to co-operate with their employer so that the employer can comply with their duty to reduce risks in the workplace. If the employer can show that having all employees having the vaccine is the most reasonable way of protecting the workplace from the risk of Covid-19, there may be a potential to enforce employee vaccination as a health and safety requirement. However, until this is enshrined in law, which due to Human Rights issues is perhaps unlikely, the position on mandating vaccinations in ALL workplaces remains unclear.
- It is expected/ hoped that the government will issue guidance for employers in due course when the vaccination is ready and available for more general use. Given the obligations set out above, to take reasonable steps to manage workplace H&S risks, it is clear that employers should probably be encouraging their employees to be vaccinated to protect themselves and everyone else at the workplace.
- Mandatory vaccination is more likely to be applicable, subject to government guidance, where face-to-face contact with vulnerable people is a necessary part of a particular role i.e. health and social care. This will be job dependent however, and there will be different considerations for those on the “front line” against those who are not.
- Risk assessments will be key to determine if additional measures can be put in place in the event that an employee chooses not to be vaccinated. This again will be of greater importance in settings such as health and social care, where Covid-19 is a reportable disease under RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations) and not having the vaccination could put the public at risk.
- Objections to vaccinations will need careful consideration by employers, particularly if they fall within a reason protected by the Equality Act 2010, such as an objection on religious grounds, or due to potential complications that the vaccination may have on existing medical conditions.
In reality, employers are likely to face challenges from employees to be vaccinated, from genuine objections to far-fetched statements about the vaccine containing government monitoring microchips or listening devices for Google. Personally, I’ll take my chances and gratefully accept my vaccination when the time arises, but others may not be so enthusiastic.
Please note, all advice and opinion offered in this article are subject to change in line with the latest government advice.