Can I insist my employees have a coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination?
In short, no, although employers have a duty, as far as reasonably practicable, to ensure the health and safety at work of their workforce. Asking employees to agree to a vaccination against coronavirus (COVID-19) is likely to be a reasonable step to take to reduce the risk to employees’ health.
In this respect, employers can encourage employees to have the vaccine once they are eligible and invited to do so under the national programme. However, a vaccination requires an individual’s informed and voluntary consent and if employees do not agree to a vaccine, employers are limited in what they can do.
Employers could consider informing employees that refusing a vaccination could lead to disciplinary action, but this could raise a number of legal issues, with particular risk if an employee’s refusal to be vaccinated is down to for example; a disability, protected religious or philosophical belief and results in disciplinary action from the employer, as this could lead to the employee issuing a direct or indirect discrimination claim and claiming constructive unfair dismissal if the employee resigns in protest. A better course of action for employers would be to help employees make informed choices regarding whether or not to vaccinate, by sharing impartial, factual information.
There are indirect measures that employers could decide upon in order to compel employees to agree to vaccination, such as; refusing entry to certain parts of the workplace, or relocating them to lower-risk areas, if employees cannot demonstrate that they have been vaccinated. However, although employers may be tempted to undertake disciplinary action should an employee repeatedly refuse to be vaccinated, they would be strongly advised to take professional HR advice before any such measures are considered or implemented.
Currently, it is unlikely that employers would be able to rely on health and safety grounds to justify to an employment tribunal that they have taken disciplinary action against an employee for refusing a vaccine, particularly in the early stages of the vaccination programme.
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