Be ready to bid farewell to the days of rolling out of bed at 8:59am and being ‘in the office’ by nine as the country embarks on a programme of vaccination against Coronavirus.
As of this week, the new Pfizer vaccination (which has been shown to be 95% effective) is being rolled out, starting with the elderly and health and care workers. While the young and healthy are lower down the list, the prospect of resuming some sort of normality in the workplace is on the horizon. But can employers make the vaccination mandatory for employees?
There’s not yet any government guidance on this point, but it would be fair to say that employers should at the very least encourage employees to get the vaccination when it is offered to them, in order to protect both themselves and their colleagues. That’s because the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 says employers should take reasonable steps to reduce any workplace risk. But what if these “reasonable steps” go against certain employees’ beliefs?
This article written by my colleagues Sean Dempsey and Saffron O’Gorman looks at some of the potential objections to the vaccine, such as religious or philosophical beliefs. There is a risk that a compulsory vaccination policy could be indirectly discriminatory against employees with such views, unless it can be justified.
The Covid vaccination should be considered as part of any employer’s workplace risk assessment, including looking at whether mandating the vaccine would be appropriate. For now, while we can look to the post-pandemic future with optimism, the vaccine is likely a long way off for most of us, so it may be best to hold off making any workplace vaccination policies just yet.
Employers will need to consider vaccination as part of their risk assessment and should be encouraging employees to get vaccinated once this becomes a realistic possibility. If an employer intends to mandate the vaccine as part of its approach to reducing risks, it will be open to discrimination claims and will need to consider whether there are reasonable alternatives.