Time off for vaccination appointments – an employment law perspective

The fact that every adult in the UK will at some point be invited to receive their COVID-19 vaccination means millions of collective hours spent at vaccination centres, hospitals and GP surgeries – many of which will occur during working hours.

With a potential loss of productivity for businesses, employers might be wondering if they are obliged to accommodate requests for time off during work hours.

Should I give my employee time off for their vaccination?
While no law or government guidance exists to direct employers on this particular issue, let’s take a look at existing law to see what approach employers should take.

The Equality Act 2010
Let’s first look at the Equality Act 2010, which provides legal protection to individuals with certain ‘protected characteristics’ – one of which is disability. Employees who are listed as extremely clinically vulnerable to the virus may also have a disability and, as such, be legally protected against discrimination in the workplace as a result. If you don’t let them attend their appointment, they may be able to bring legal proceedings against you for failing to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate their needs.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
Furthermore, an employee may also be able to make a legal claim against you under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. This piece of legislation stipulates that employers must provide a safe environment for their staff while they are at work, for example by carrying out risk assessments and putting safety measures in place to minimise any risks identified.

There has been a lot of discussion during the pandemic as to whether employers who oblige their staff to work on site are breaking health and safety laws by exposing them unnecessarily to the risk of contracting the virus.

Similarly, preventing staff from attending vaccination appointments could be seen as failing to put measures in place to mitigate the risk of transmission. This is especially important in health and social care settings, where the risk of contracting the virus is higher, both among staff and the vulnerable clients and patients for whom they care.

The decent thing?
In spite of the above, it is true that there is no specific law saying that employers must give their workers time off for medical appointments, or that they must pay them for the time away. However, it is not only in an employers’ best interest to allow their employees to attend their designated vaccination appointments, in terms of minimising workplace risk and reducing the chance of legal claims; it could also be considered as the ‘decent thing’ to do, both ethically and in the eyes of the wider world.

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, employee wellbeing and safety has been the subject of intense public and media scrutiny. Brands such as BooHoo, Amazon and Asos have all received negative press for putting their staff in danger through unsafe practices.

It could seriously damage your business’s reputation if it became public knowledge that you were preventing your employees from attending appointments, or even asking them to reschedule them, given the immense burden the vaccination programme is already placing on the NHS. This could have long-term repercussions for your business that far outweigh any time lost to getting the jab.

Experienced employment lawyers
At Woodfines, our Employment Lawyers understand the delicate balance between businesses’ need to remain productive and the legal requirement to keep staff safe and healthy in the workplace. We can advise you on the legal and business benefits of allowing employees to attend their vaccination appointments, explaining the relevant legislation and ensuring your business sustains no reputational damage during the process. Please get in touch by emailing employmentlaw@woodfines.co.uk.

-Nick Sayer 

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