Employers could legally insist that new members of staff have COVID vaccines, the justice secretary has suggested amid the debate over what are being dubbed potential 'no jab, no job' policies.
Robert Buckland said it was unlikely that bosses could require staff to have a jab under their existing contracts, but suggested that it could be tested in court.
There is ongoing debate over whether companies could adopt 'no jab, no job' policies and refuse to hire staff who have declined vaccines for reasons other than medical grounds.
Pimlico Plumbers and care home group Barchester Healthcare are among those who said they will adopt such policies.
Downing Street has said it would be “discriminatory” to force someone to have a coronavirus vaccine in order to keep their job.
But the Buckland suggested that while it was unlikely that companies could adopt such policies under current contracts, it could potentially be tested in court on whether they can insist on new staff being vaccinated as a condition of their employment.
He told ITV’s Robert Peston: “I think it would depend very much on the terms of employment and the particular contract.
“Generally speaking I’d be surprised if there were contracts of employment existing now that did make that approach lawful. I think frankly the issue would have to be tested.
“I can see that in particular work environments the desirability of having a vaccine is going to be higher than in others.”
Watch: 'No jab, no job?' UK businesses consider requiring COVID vaccine
Asked if it is up to employers to test the system if they do not want people who turn down vaccines working for them, Buckland said: “I think that has to be the case because we’re dealing with existing terms of contracts of employment, thousands of existing contracts.”
Pimlico Plumbers founder Charlie Mullins said on Wednesday that lawyers have approved of his approach for new employees.
“More and more businesses are saying the same things,” he told Channel 4 News.
“We’ve already had the contracts drawn up, lawyers are very happy with them. They say it’s legal under health and safety laws and we have an obligation to protect our staff and our customers.”
Barchester Healthcare, which runs more than 200 care homes, said last month it will adopt the new policy because of the vulnerability of its residents.
The prime minister’s official spokesman has said: “Taking a vaccine is not mandatory and it would be discriminatory to force somebody to take one.”
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