The start of December saw the first Covid vaccination being taken into the public arena. A 90-year-old grandmother in Coventry became the first person in Britain to receive the vaccine developed by Pfizer as part of the rollout of 800,000 doses across the country to the most vulnerable and key workers.
Can the Vaccine Be Made Mandatory by Employers?
Legislation currently in place covering health and safety states that employers have a duty of care to protect their employees’ health, as well as anyone on their premises and those who could be affected by association. If a risk assessment demonstrates that there is the possibility of being exposed to biological agents and there is an effective vaccine available, employers should offer their employees the opportunity to receive a vaccine should they not already be immunised. These are only guidelines, however, so employees are free to decline the offer.
Can An Employer Change Your Contract to Make a Vaccine Mandatory?
Any changes to an employment contract need to be agreed by employees. Enforcing a change without that consent means the employer would be in breach of contract. Employees would be within their rights to resign and claim constructive dismissal. It would be difficult for an employer to prove that this change was reasonable. Introducing it would be tricky regarding existing employees. Introducing an immunisation clause into a new joiner’s contract would need to be done in a reasonable way and include a method of discussing concerns.
Can an Employer Discipline or Force Their Staff to Have the Vaccine?
Forcing an employee to have a vaccination without their consent is criminal assault and constitutes a repudiatory breach of contract. While this is new territory, terminating a contract because an employee refuses a vaccine would more than likely be seen as constructive dismissal. There is also potential for employers to be at risk of a discrimination claim should they pursue vaccination as a requirement, as some employees may not be able to receive the vaccination due to health or religious reasons. BBC News posted a useful fact-checking article debunking the rumours around mandatory vaccines.
Can Employers Encourage Vaccination?
While employers cannot force or discipline staff who refuse vaccination, they can consider writing guidelines or non-contractual company policy explaining the reasons why it is beneficial to get the vaccine.