The start of the UK’s vaccination efforts to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic has proved to be incredibly successful so far, with millions of Brits having already received their first jab. While the consensus is that vaccines are the right approach to getting us out of the pandemic, there are some who, rightly or wrongly, aren’t so keen on being vaccinated. This presents a difficult situation, certainly for the nation at large but also for many businesses.

Can businesses force staff to have the vaccine?

With businesses looking eagerly to get back up and running, wanting staff to return to offices and bringing customers back to their premises, having an inoculated workforce is seen as a major factor in this becoming a reality. So, it’s perhaps not too surprising to hear that some companies would like to make getting vaccinated a requirement for their staff.

But what are the ethical and legal ramifications of such a decision? Should businesses be allowed to force staff to have a COVID vaccine to work? Health Minister, Edward Argar, has warned employers that they are not able to force their employees to get the vaccine before returning to work. Argar emphasised that vaccinations have to remain voluntary, saying that there are other ways in which businesses can make their workplaces COVID-secure.

What are the solutions that businesses can take?

As Mr Argar says, there are other options available to businesses for a COVID-secure and healthy workplace, these include:

  • Regular deep cleaning of the workplace
  • Hand sanitiser stations
  • Social distancing measures
  • Offering virus tests to staff
  • Allowing for continued remote working

What does the law say about the issue?

In addition, solicitors Nelsons has commented on the legal aspect of the issue, confirming that employers cannot force employees to have the vaccine in order to work, “however, it may be within their rights – depending on the circumstances – to take action if you are not going to be vaccinated and they think there are good reasons why you should be.

“For example, this would particularly apply to those working in healthcare or care home settings. In some circumstances, employees could in fact be dismissed for refusing the vaccination if it means they will present a threat to themselves, patients or service users.”

The ethics of employee vaccinations

employees working in office

The issue is obviously a big one and while it’s clear that firing an employee for refusing the vaccine is not an option, the ethics of the matter still remain a matter of debate. On the one hand, its quite a different situation if the government would make the vaccination mandatory compared to an employer. We can’t help where we live during the pandemic, making any government decree of this nature hard to swallow.

However, our place of work is entirely voluntary – no one, ultimately, is forcing you to be there – so if your employer were to issue a “no jab, no job” policy, is there much room for complaint? Of course, it isn’t as simple as all that. Personal rights and freedoms aren’t something that we expect or want our employers to be able to violate. It isn’t exactly a good look for a business to pressure staff into breaking their values with a threat of job termination.

Not all businesses are the same

Of course, as legal experts have explained, not all businesses are the same. So, companies will be looking at their own specific situation to determine the right course of action. For example, a supermarket – considered an essential service – might have more credibility in making a decision to only allow employees who have been vaccinated to work for them. Such staff members are performing a vital job, serving the public, and interacting with customers on a daily basis. As a result, an employee will likely realise that their own actions regarding vaccinations do not impact themselves alone and it may be the case that their employer can take some kind of action.

Adversely, there is perhaps less room for debate on this issue for a business selling products online, where staff are interacting with clients over the phone and have zero interaction with customers in person. Perhaps such a company wouldn’t have quite the same confidence in both a legal and ethical sense in issuing a “no jab, no job” policy.

HR departments and business owners clearly have a lot to think about. A balance between protecting the health of employees and any customer base they might come into contact with has to be balanced with personal rights – including the decision to refuse a vaccination.

Right now, HR teams are playing a more vital role than ever as businesses up and down the country attempt to wrestle with such issues, protect employees, and perform the essential functions which any successful business requires.

Giving staff the support they need, access to the best HR systems and any other people analytics tools, will be key in the months ahead. If you need any advice on systems implementation or training for new tools, please get in touch with us here at Phase 3 to see how we can help.

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This blog has been written by James Proctor, Director of Consulting & Services at Phase 3.

James Proctor from Phase 3