The Covid-19 pandemic has prompted employers across the UK to reassess their health and safety practices, with some businesses planning to introduce mandatory vaccinations for employees.
According to a study of 5,000 workers across various sectors by BrightHR, around half expect their employer to introduce a mandatory vaccine policy. A third said it would be "reckless" of their company not to bring in such a policy, yet only 17% of employees say they have discussed vaccinations with their bosses.
When it comes to specific settings such as working with medically vulnerable people, 70% say that people working in that area should be made to have the vaccine. While employers want to keep workers safe and curb the spread of Covid-19, there are various factors to bear in mind before introducing mandatory vaccines for staff.
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Alan Price, CEO of BrightHR, warns employers not to fall foul of the law in adopting mandatory vaccines.
“Although half of people expect their employer to demand a vaccine passport, it remains to be seen how reasonable those demands are and, therefore, whether the employer is acting lawfully in doing so,” he says.
“Employers must tread carefully when requiring employees to have the vaccine and ensure that their circumstances are appropriate. It may well become that the government will require employees in some sectors to have the vaccine, and the passport will be a simple way of evidencing that.”
So what should employers consider before instigating a mandatory vaccination scheme?
Whether an employer can – or should – make it mandatory for employees to have the Covid-19 vaccine is far from straightforward. The government has confirmed that vaccinations will become mandatory for care home staff, volunteers and anyone else entering the care home for work purposes. However, more businesses may want to make vaccination compulsory to protect employees.
“If Covid vaccinations are made mandatory, employers need to bear in mind that this could restrict available talent in an already talent-short market,” says Sam Rope, vice-president of HR at Adecco Group UK & Ireland.
The government’s prioritisation of older age groups means many younger workers are still waiting to receive their first or second vaccinations. “It could also impact the employment of young people who have not had the opportunity to get vaccinations until recently,” adds Rope.
Additionally, contractual implications need to be considered, as do the legalities surrounding enforcing Covid vaccinations. “Policy development must take place, including information on boosters, and ensuring managers are upskilled to understand this,” adds Rope.
It’s also essential to remember that some people may not be able to be vaccinated for medical reasons. Employers should put guidelines in place for vulnerable employees to ensure they can work in a safe environment, while being mindful of discrimination.
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The decision on whether to make vaccines obligatory can take some time, too. “Employers would need to determine whether they’re going to make Covid vaccinations contractual for staff, as this will impact how they outline their decision,” says Rope.
“If it is decided to make the vaccinations contractual, extensive consultation will be required from managers with their employees. If they’re not made contractual, this will impact how enforceable the policy is.”
And for those who decide not to be vaccinated, it’s important for employers to outline their options clearly and fairly.
“Employees have the right to not be unfairly dismissed, and also not be discriminated against for reasons of disability and other protected characteristics,” says Rope. “There is a substantial risk of discrimination if such a policy was enforced against groups of society with protected characteristics that have a low take-up rate of the vaccine. For example, pregnant women and certain ethnic minority groups.
“Employers should only make vaccinations mandatory if there is a proportionate good reason for doing so, and much will depend on the job itself and the amount of or the nature of contact with other people,” he adds. “There would always need to be an exceptions policy for those employees who have genuine medical reasons for not taking the vaccine.”