Employers, employees and vaccines – key questions answered

Aine Fox, PA
·4-min read

As coronavirus vaccines are rolled out, the question has arisen as to whether employees will or should have to be jabbed.

Here is a look at some questions around the situation.

– Have any employers indicated they will require their workers to be vaccinated?

Charlie Mullins, founder of Pimlico Plumbers, said last month that his company will not take on anybody who has not been vaccinated (Victoria Jones/PA)
Charlie Mullins, founder of Pimlico Plumbers, said last month that his company will not take on anybody who has not been vaccinated (Victoria Jones/PA)

Last month one of the UK’s largest care home groups said it would not hire new staff who have refused to have a coronavirus vaccine on non-medical grounds.

Barchester Healthcare, which runs more than 200 care homes, said it was adopting the new policy because of the vulnerability of its residents.

Elsewhere Charlie Mullins, founder of Pimlico Plumbers, said his company will not take on anybody who has not been vaccinated.

– What has the Government said?

Downing Street has said it would be “discriminatory” to force someone to have a coronavirus vaccine in order to keep their job.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Taking a vaccine is not mandatory and it would be discriminatory to force somebody to take one.”

Unions have said people should be encouraged, not intimidated into getting a coronavirus vaccine (Danny Lawson/PA)
Unions have said people should be encouraged, not intimidated into getting a coronavirus vaccine (Danny Lawson/PA)

– What is the legal situation for employers?

Myles Thomas, an employment lawyer at law firm Slater and Gordon, said employers should “proceed with caution if they intend to apply a policy of requiring employees to be vaccinated”.

He said the Government does not have the legal authority to enforce vaccinations and so it would be “extremely unlikely that an employer could lawfully compel its employees to be vaccinated”.

The Telegraph reported that some ministers believe companies which adopt a “jab for a job” stance are protected by health and safety laws.

It quoted a Government source as saying: “Health and safety laws say you have to protect other people at work, and when it becomes about protecting other people the argument gets stronger.”

– So what responsibility do employers have?

Mr Thomas said employers have a duty of care to their employees and should ensure a safe working environment.

In light of that, he said “it would be wise for the employer to explain why the vaccine is so important and the health benefits it would bring” especially in primary care roles where there is an increased risk of patients and staff contracting the virus.

He said there will “undoubtedly” be people who do not want to have the vaccine and employers who try to apply “a requirement of vaccination”.

He said in such cases “there is the potential for legal dispute if an employee is penalised for not complying with the employer’s direction” – but he advised that alternatives should be considered.

He said: “Before making any hasty decisions, the employer should seek to understand the employee’s reasons for not being vaccinated and should explore other options, such as adjusting duties or giving consideration to furlough leave or providing government information on the vaccine to counter any mis-information the employee may be relying on in making their decision to reject a vaccine.”

– What are businesses saying?

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has said it is not in favour of compulsory vaccinations for employees.

Matthew Fell, CBI chief UK policy director, said businesses are committed to “doing all they can to inform and engage their employees on the benefits of the vaccine”.

He added: “Firms will help wherever they can, such as showing flexibility with their staff to make it easy for them to receive the vaccine and supporting those that are volunteering in the national effort.

“The re-opening of our economy hinges on the vaccine, but the rollout programme is ultimately a matter for government and health experts.”

– And what about unions?

Unison has said people should be “encouraged, not intimidated” into getting a jab.

Following the announcement from Barchester Healthcare, the union said it wrote to the Government calling for it to intervene, describing the approach as “heavy-handed”.

In its letter, Unison urged the care minister to “send a strong message to employers that putting pressure on staff to take the vaccine as a condition of their work is totally unacceptable”.