In depth

Is the Government split over mandatory vaccines in the workplace?

Gateley Legal

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Press reports have again highlighted the difficult issues behind the question of whether employers could make the COVID19 vaccination a compulsory requirement for staff.

It’s an issue that we have explored in our series of articles Vaccinations: Can you make them compulsory? ; “Vaccinations, unfair dismissal and the band of reasonable responses” and “Vaccinations: what are the discrimination risks?”  

The articles have provoked a great deal of debate with feelings running strong in both anti and pro-vax camps.

The latest press reports suggest that opinions are also divided at Whitehall.

Whereas one Minister was reported as saying that they believed any compulsory requirements to have the vaccination or the introduction of vaccine passports may be discriminatory others have expressed quite different views. 

One view that has been leaked from a Ministerial source is that employers could insist that all staff get vaccinated under current health and safety law. This would be on the basis that employers should be protected when they introduce rules which require workers to protect both themselves and their colleagues from harm. Whilst it was apparently recognised that might need to be some exceptions overall a policy might be defended on health and safety grounds in the same way as a requirement to follow rules to wear a mask or to keep socially distant.

These types of media reports may lead to more employers taking action to insist or ‘encourage’ employees to get vaccinated which may be the intention. However, according to a survey conducted by Global Recruiter many employers have already made a decision to take a hard-line approach with 23% of those responding said that they are going to make it a requirement for employees.

We would recommend that employers take into account our advice in the previous articles to take steps to reduce the risk of unfair dismissal or discrimination claims. The particular circumstances of the job will need to be taken into account and the reasons why the employee does not want to be vaccinated. There needs to be a clear line of communication and careful consideration before any decision is taken. Unfortunately, though due to the record numbers of Employment Tribunal claims already waiting to be heard it looks unlikely that there will be any judicial guidance on these issues in the short term.

Do you require further guidance on employee vaccination?

For more guidance around the employer's ability to make vaccinations compulsory, read our three lastest insights:

  1. Vaccinations, unfair dismissal and the band of reasonable responses
  2. Vaccinations: can you make them compulsory?
  3. Vaccinations: what are the discrimination risks?  
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