Why will some employees not be vaccinated:
Some people may choose to exercise the right not to be vaccinated for religion, health, fear, or other reasons.
Can organisations mandate employees or new hires to be vaccinated?
It depends and is indeed a dilemma: While employers can argue on the side of the 1974 H&S Act, which requires them as a duty to provide a safe work environment i.e in this instance, likely interpreted as having the workforce vaccinated to prevent spreading the virus in the workplace. However mandating vaccination potentially, violates an individual’s right to choose to be vaccinated or not.
Lastly, current employment laws, practices appreciate the need for employers and potential hires to negotiate the terms of the employment contract, it is, however, obvious which of both these stakeholders wields a greater bargaining power. In the current situation, perception of the use of this power may be viewed less leniently if the employer rescinds a job offer due to a candidate choosing not to be vaccinated.
What are the chances of ETs arising from this situation?
As mentioned above, it is a very tricky and sticky situation. If the government were to mandate vaccination for all citizens, it then becomes an easier and clearer decision-making process for employers. However, as long as taking the vaccine remains an issue of choice for the individual, the chances of ETs arising are very high. As such, my advice to employers is to develop a very reasonable COVID-19 policy that addresses the issue of vaccination – particularly as the UK is highly expectant of lockdown rules to be relaxed, leading to a gradual return to office space working again.
What options do I have if I have employees refusing to be vaccinated?
There are some options available to be explored. However, regardless of which option or combination of options an employer chooses to adopt, empathetic consultation needs to be the basis of engagement with employees. e.g assuming a non-vaccinated employee working from home is due to return to the office, an option is to carry out a job assessment to determine if the employee can effectively continue to work from home, while his/her colleagues return to the office space.
If my colleagues are all vaccinated and I’m not, surely, I am of no risk to them?
The CDC (American Centre for Disease Control and Prevention), as of Feb. 3, 2021, published that receiving the Covid-19 vaccine, will prevent the recipient from falling sick with COVID-19 as the vaccine teaches the recipient's immune system how to recognise and fight the COVID-19 virus.
Based on the above, it seems a non-vaccinated employee should not be a risk to their colleagues however, the CDC also published that there is currently no knowledge on the certainty that getting the vaccine prevents recipients from spreading the virus. Thus, working with vaccinated colleagues puts non-vaccinated colleagues at risk of being infected. A risk any good employer will definitely and reasonably try to avoid.
What other measures are available to employers to ensure workforce safety?
Some organisations have established frequent testing to foster office space working in safety. The government states that before employers establish employee testing programmes, they are advised to ensure clarity and compliance with guidelines surrounding testing programmes and data protection. It should be noted that cost is a factor to consider when implementing testing programmes.