Numerous questions have been asked about whether or not employers have legal grounds to force their employees to accept the COVID-19 vaccine. It now appears that the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has provided an answer.
Speaking on behalf of the Prime Minister, a spokesperson said that “taking a vaccine is not mandatory and it would be discriminatory to force somebody to take one.”
This contradicts reports that government ministers believed that current UK health and safety laws would protect employers who required their employees to be vaccinated.
Recent research also indicates that nearly a quarter of UK employers would force their staff to be vaccinated, even though it is not mandatory. However, the adoption of a “jabs for jobs” policy could give rise to disability discrimination claims in cases where employees cannot be vaccinated because of health conditions. In situations where employees refuse the vaccination on medical grounds, employers should try to provide alternatives, such as working from home, to ensure that staff can continue to do their work safely.
Employers who insist on the implementation of a vaccination policy would need to change the terms and conditions of work and introduce new contractual requirements that might be rejected by employees. In such cases, employment contracts would then need to be terminated, with re-engagement offered on new terms.
In working environments like hospitals and care homes, it certainly seems reasonable for employers to request that employees be vaccinated. But having said that, employers are still advised to focus on communicating the benefits of the vaccine to their staff, while encouraging them to accept it, rather than threatening them with dismissal if they don’t.