A 7-minute read
No jab, no job: what can possibly go wrong with Covid-19 vaccinations?
In January 2021 Pimlico Plumbers announced that they would be introducing into employee contracts a ‘no jab, no job’ policy. It might be acceptable for a company to state that as a condition of employment, new employees are to be vaccinated, but there will be legitimate exceptions explained below.
Charlie Mullins, Chairman says: If they do not want to comply with the policy, it will be decided on a case-by-case basis whether they are kept on.
While he then went on to state that there was wide-spread support among his employees for vaccinations and he has put aside money to privately vaccinate staff, our Head of Employment Law, Justine Watkinson says:
“Any business which is thinking about a similar broad-brush approach to Covid-19 vaccinations needs to be aware that they could be putting their company at risk. There are legal issues to consider including potential discrimination claims.”
So, where do employers legally stand with Covid-19 vaccinations?
As of January 2021, Covid-19 vaccinations are not compulsory. In short, employers cannot force employees to have the vaccine and must also consider legitimate reasons for refusal such as pregnancy and allergies. If an employee with two or more years of service refuses to be vaccinated and the company dismisses them, the employee could have grounds for unfair dismissal. Justine adds:
“Each vaccination refusal needs to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Legitimate reasons could be based on religious belief or disability. Also, the Oxford and Pfizer vaccines do not contain animal components so vegans might consider refusing other vaccines if they contain animal products based on ethical reasons.”
Employers have a duty to take reasonable care of employees and the vaccination can also be part of a risk assessment to protect others in the workplace. We recommend that the risk assessment is documented, and well-structured to account for individual circumstances and the working environment.
In terms of a vaccine refusal, we recommend taking professional advice as any such refusal would depend on an individual’s circumstances. For example, while the request to vaccinate might seem ‘reasonable’ for a key worker in a care home, the same request might appear less reasonable for a factory worker. There are other options to consider such as temporarily adjusting someone’s role to reduce risk to themselves and others. Again taking such action would need to be within the law, so seek advice.
3 actions a business can take
- Review your policies to ensure that any vaccination programme remains within the law in terms of discrimination. No employee is to be disadvantaged because of a legally protected characteristic listed here.
- Continue to have open lines of communication with all staff members in terms of the vaccination plan and the benefits of being vaccinated (on top of maintaining Covid-19 safety rules and awareness in the workplace). This will help address individual concerns and also help the business better understand why some employees might want to refuse the vaccination.
- Business owners and managers must keep up to date with both Covid-19 guidance and the national vaccination roll-out programme, which is subject to ongoing review, and plan ahead accordingly.
If you have any questions, be reassured that we remain here to help. For employment law advice, have a free conversation with us about your unique circumstances.
Further reading about the vaccine and Pimlico Plumbers is here, as reported by the BBC.