Can employers insist on booster vaccinations?

booster vaccinations
BOSTON, MA - December 9: A patient receives a Covid Booster shot prior to Boston Mayor Michelle Wu getting her Covid Booster shot at City Hall on December 9, 2021 in , BOSTON, MA. (Staff Photo By Stuart Cahill/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

Presently, it isn’t mandatory in the UK to enforce vaccines and there are no signs that the government is planning to change this. However, a company can communicate the benefits  and encourage staff to be vaccinated with booster vaccinations.

Under The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, Employers must take reasonable steps to reduce any workplace risks. Consequently, it could be considered reasonable to encourage  teams to be vaccinated to protect themselves and everyone else at the workplace.

In certain situations, such as in a nursing home, it may be appropriate to issue a ‘reasonable instruction’ for the vaccination because refusal to have the vaccination could put vulnerable people at risk. It’s worth seeking HR support to consider what is regarded as a ‘reasonable instruction’ as it depends on the business, and as such should be treated individually.

Can the work force be encouraged to take the booster vaccinations?

A good communication strategy enables employees to make informed decisions about the vaccination. Line managers should be aware of the vaccination approach as a company and use appropriate communication with staff who may be reluctant to have the vaccine or refer to HR if necessary. A good place to start is keeping staff updated with the facts and supplying data supporting the effectiveness of the vaccine.

A workshop or training session with a medical professional to answer any questions and provide reassurance to team members is a good way of keeping the lines of communication open.

What employees refuse the booster vaccinations offered by the NHS?

There will, inevitably, be members of staff who are reluctant to take the vaccine. Their concerns should be listened to and treated with empathy and understanding. Reassurance with legitimate and reliable information will help an informed decision. At a later date, an employee may become more comfortable with the idea of the vaccine and eventually change their mind.

Risk assessments should be reviewed and any increased risks that arise from unvaccinated workers should be considered. There may be other ways to enable safe working, such as continued working from home, social distancing within the workplace, screens or the use of PPE. An employee’s work responsibility or role could temporarily or permanently change to  enable them to work remotely, or in a safer working environment, to reduce risks to themselves and others

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What if an employee can’t have the vaccine?

There are circumstances where a member of staff may not be able to get the vaccine because of a medical reason, such as an allergy or pregnancy. For these employees, where the reason is genuine, steps should be taken with regards to health and safety. An individual risk assessment to reduce the risk to themselves and others should be undertaken. This could be undertaken by making sure they have a secure working environment, allowing them to work remotely where possible, or possibly considering a different role.

Should there be a Covid risk assessment?

An updated the Covid policy, outlining the business’s view on vaccination and Covid security, to explain the expectations of managers and employees should be considered. Also an updated Covid risk assessment to reflect an increasingly vaccinated workforce and the gradual lifting of Covid workplace restrictions. Rick assessments may find that Covid secure measures are required for some time to come, especially if some workers are not vaccinated, or if Covid rates continue to fluctuate through different seasons and variants.

Can an employee be dismissed if they refuse to be vaccinated?

Failure to follow an employer’s reasonable instruction would normally lead to disciplinary processes and dismissal. However, whether or not having a Covid vaccine is reasonable should be determined on a case-by-case basis.

There is a risk of unfair dismissal, discrimination and other claims if action is taken against an employee for refusing vaccination. Circumstances should be thoroughly investigated before starting a disciplinary process.

What about when travel restrictions are lifted?

When travel restrictions are lifted, consider providing vaccines to employees who travel for work in the same way they may need other vaccinations. If an employee needs to travel for their work, and refuses to be vaccinated, they are no longer capable of carrying out their role. If no other work can be established for them, it may be legitimate to dismiss them, but only after a full investigation of the circumstances and exploration of all alternative options.

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If there are large numbers of visitors or people going in and out of your workplace, consider whether these people should be encouraged to have been vaccinated too and how this should be communicated to staff.

Can action be taken against employees with high levels of Covid-related absence if they have not been vaccinated, booster vaccinations?

Sometimes, employees who have already had a period of self-isolation and after returning to work may need to self-isolate again. Also, employees may have to self-isolate with symptoms that are not the virus, even if they have had the vaccine or be instructed to by Test and Trace. Therefore, whether someone may or may not have been vaccinated, it may be necessary for employers to reevaluate action in relation to sickness absence.

Usually, employers can ask for proof of illness after seven days of absence through a GP’s fit note. However, given the requirement for continued self-isolation, any proof required should be limited to the isolation notes that can be obtained from the NHS.

If employees are concerned about disciplinary action, they may return to work when unwell and before they are fully recovered and risk infecting others.

In the future, it may be fair to include absences from work due to Covid infections in absence management triggers, which would encourage employees to do all they can to protect themselves against it to avoid illness absence reaching unacceptable levels. 

This may encourage employees to have the vaccine, with it remaining their choice, and action could not be taken specifically because they have not had the vaccine. At the moment, current advice remains to exclude Covid-related absences from attendance management triggers.

An employer you should keep up to date with the latest advice from the UK government and continue communication with employees. Didlaw disability discrimination lawyers can answer any questions about employee vaccinations and what this means for employers and employees.


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