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Can Employers Demand You to have the Covid Vaccine?

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As the vaccine programme rolls out across the country and the age limit gets lower pretty soon it will hit those of working age so –  as employers do you have the right to make your staff get vaccinated?  But also as employees what can you do if you want to refuse a vaccine?

Recently the Minister for vaccination, Nadhim Zahawi, said it would be “discriminatory” for an employer to refuse employment for someone who had refused to take a Covid vaccine, similarly dismissing a staff member who refuses to have it could land companies in the tribunal with an unfair dismissal claim further down the line.

“Most employers we deal with have a good working relationship with their staff and are concerned for their welfare.   I can see that in certain jobs, for example tradespeople or hospitality (when it reopens), it might be a great PR stunt to say all your staff have been vaccinated  - we’re Covid safe so use us instead of taking a risk with others.

"However, I would urge employers not to be heavy handed when it comes to the vaccine roll out, encouragement is fine but forcing your staff to do something against their will is not,”  said Susan Mayall, head of employment law at Pearson Solicitors.

Certain types of discrimination are unreasonable and unlawful under the Equality Act 2010, for example race, gender and disability but this is a whole new area of employment law for business owners to be aware of. Employees also need to be aware that simple vaccine hesitancy is not one of these protected characteristics, although refusal for other reasons might be.

“Threatened dismissal or disciplinary action for vaccine refusal could risk complaints relating to discrimination based on religion or belief, disability, age and issues relating to the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European Convention on Human Rights, which respects privacy,” added Susan.

Obviously no cases have reached the courts yet as it’s early days and it could be the end of 2021 or even 2022 before any vaccine related unfair dismissal claims reach the employment tribunal - so it’s a waiting game.

“In addition under current legislation, the UK government cannot demand  that people get vaccinated so it really is optional,” said Susan.

In early December one poll suggested that more than a third of the public (35%) are sceptical and may not take a COVID-19 vaccine, while 48% worry it will not be safe, 47% worry it will not be effective and 55% worry that it will have side-effects.

But as the roll out continues and the media frenzy surrounding the various vaccinations continues as a business owner it’s a case of making sure you are informed, liaising with your employment solicitors for the most up to date and relevant advice and communicating with your staff. 

As an employee it’s also a case of making sure you’re safe, making a personal decision which you are happy with and if you have any concerns discussing them with your employer before they escalate.

For advice on all aspect of employment law, Covid and how you are affected contact Susan Mayall on 0161 785 3500 or email her directly at susan.mayall@pearsonlegal.co.uk

Please note that the information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by Pearson Solicitors and Financial Advisers Ltd or any of its members or employees. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.

This blog was posted some time ago and its contents may now be out of date. For the latest legal position relating to these issues, get in touch with the author - or make an enquiry now.

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