Vaccinations in the workplace

Whilst COVID and furlough in employment has been the hot topic for the last year or so, it would seem that good news envelopes us in moving forward from the pandemic with the rollout of the vaccination programme.

In itself this is great news as not only can individuals see the light at the end of the tunnel, but businesses can start to bring back their work force and prepare to drive forward in the roadmap out of lockdown.

We all know that employment law is fast paced and evolves from week to week. With the introduction of the vaccine, it is also undoubtedly going to throw up some issues for us as employers, e.g. do you allow employees time off for their vaccination, and can you force them to have it?

Whilst on the face of it, time off for medical appointments is not a legal obligation, it is not always possible for an employee to obtain an appointment outside of working hours. There is also no legal obligation to pay an employee for the time off that they have to attend a medical appointment.

COVID vaccines are a tricky subject as those who are classed as ‘extremely clinically vulnerable’ may also be a disabled person in law. This means, if an employer fails to allow time off for the vaccine, they heighten their risk of a potential disability discrimination claim for failing to make Reasonable Adjustments.

There are also Health & Safety issues and claims attached to this as under Health & Safety legislation employers must provide a safe environment for staff to work in. Therefore not allowing staff to have time off to attend their vaccine appointment, could result in a claim whereby the employee says the employer is not putting measures in place to mitigate the risk of transmission.

Above all, to reduce workplace risk and the chance of legal claims, it would be in the best interest of the employer to allow time off for the vaccine.

Inevitably, a failure to allow employees time off could also seriously damage your business’ reputation, especially if it came into the public domain whereby you were seen to not allow, or ask employees to reschedule. For the sake of an hour or so, is it really worth the risks involved?

The pandemic has caused major disruption and the vaccination continues to cause a shed load of controversy whereby some individuals are refusing to have the vaccine.

The question for employers here, is can you force an employee to have the vaccine to ensure employment is secured?

ACAS guidance suggests that employers should support staff in getting the vaccine but cannot force them to be vaccinated. However, it may be necessary to make vaccination mandatory in some job roles, such as where someone needs to travel overseas to do their job; or where they work with vulnerable people, e.g. in healthcare or a care home.

Where employees in such a setting refuse the vaccine, they could in fact be dismissed if it means they will present a threat to themselves, patients or service users. There is of course a procedure in doing so which we can assist with should you require this.

There is also the caveat that some people are advised not to have the vaccine, for example, for health reasons.

It is important to try and encourage staff to get the vaccine, but do not force them. Therefore, talking to them and listening to their concerns is crucial.

It is extremely important when talking to them, that any discrimination is avoided.

You could look to encourage staff by adopting a few, if not all of these points:

  • Allow paid time off for vaccine appointments
  • Paying staff their usual rate of pay if they’re off sick with vaccine side effects, instead of Statutory Sick Pay
  • Not counting vaccine-related absences in absence records or towards any ‘trigger’ system the organisation may have.

For further assistance and a more in-depth discussion should you require it please contact us at employmentsupport@woodfines.co.uk

-Natasha Moore

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