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Can My Employer Force Me to Be Vaccinated?

The UK has benefited from both fast vaccine rollout and good uptake. In Europe (at the time of writing), the UK has administered the most vaccines overall, with a higher number of vaccinations per capita of population compared to its European counterparts.

With the latest widening of the UK's vaccination rollout, many employers favour their staff being vaccinated; however, not all employees are keen.

No jab, no job?

Getting a COVID-19 vaccine is a personal choice, and there are many reasons why people are 'vaccine hesitant':

  • No confidence in the quality of the vaccination service
  • Lack of trust in the government
  • Inconvenience
  • Socio-demographics
  • Lack of communication from trusted providers

There have also been concerns raised based on faith, such as whether the vaccines available (and those in production) will be acceptable to certain beliefs regarding their ingredients. Currently, the government has not legislated for the COVID-19 vaccine to be mandatory for anyone; however, they have stated that every adult in the UK will be offered the COVID-19 vaccine by 31 July 2021. Therefore, technically, you cannot be forced to be vaccinated by your employer; however, the vaccine may be necessary for specific job roles, such as travelling overseas to fulfil your duties. The UK government has stated that certain groups of individuals 'should' get the vaccine, such as frontline healthcare workers, frontline social care workers, or people working in care homes.

Guidance from the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) states that "employers should support staff in getting the COVID-19 vaccine once it's offered to them." With no law in place making the vaccine mandatory, employers should discuss the latest vaccine health information with employees. They may also encourage employees to get vaccinated by:

  • Paying for time off for vaccine appointments
  • Pay the usual rate of pay if they are off sick with vaccine side effects (rather than Statutory Sick Pay)
  • Not counting vaccine-related absences in records towards 'trigger' systems

What if I refuse my employers request to get vaccinated?

If your employer insists that you get the vaccine but you do not feel comfortable, then it's best to talk to them informally and discuss your concerns to see if you can reach an agreement. Unless you are employed in a job or sector where there are pressing safety concerns, your employer will not be able to take action against you for not having the vaccine.

That said, it's critical to keep in mind that employees with fewer than two years' service do not have the right to claim unfair dismissal (only in very limited circumstances). If you are dismissed for not getting the vaccine, a tribunal would need to decide whether it was unreasonable. Suppose your decision not to get vaccinated was due to religion, a belief, maternity reasons, or a disability; it might be possible to bring a claim against your employer for discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. Age discrimination could arise whereby only those vaccinated can return to work, with those yet to receive it due to availability or suitability demanded to stay home.

On the other hand, if your job does involve vulnerable clients or patients, such as a care or beauty role, a tribunal may find it reasonable to require staff to be vaccinated. That said, even in these circumstances, employers should be looking at positions that you can fulfil without the need for vaccination, rather than pushing ahead with a dismissal.

Effective communication is crucial in any situation

As we've touched on above, employers that remain keen to have staff vaccinated should be willing to engage in an honest and open dialogue with employees. It can also be beneficial for employers to produce a non-contractual policy detailing the advantages of getting the vaccine whilst making the process as easy as possible.

In most cases, employers are not mandating vaccines. For example, the chief executive of Unilever, Alan Jope, one of the UK's largest multinational consumer goods companies, said they would strongly encourage employees to receive the vaccine but would not be making it compulsory. Employers have certainly had a considerable role to play so far in the UK’s vaccine success story, and whilst many companies may incentivise staff to get vaccinated, the circumstances of each individual's role should be considered. Getting the vaccine is a personal choice. Employers may minimise risks to others through social distancing, face coverings or allowing employees to work from home. Therefore, dismissing an employee for refusing to get vaccinated could be ruled unfair.

Britain continues to vaccinate at a blistering pace

The UK government recently met its target of vaccinating the most vulnerable people (15 April 2021) and remains on track to offer all adults their first jab by July 2021. The Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, said, "shortly after vaccinating over 70% of adults in the UK with a first dose, we have hit yet another incredible milestone with over 60 million doses delivered in total. Our trailblazing vaccination programme — the biggest and most successful in NHS history — is another great British success story and a testament to what can be achieved when all four corners of the country come together to defeat this virus."

If you do not wish to have the vaccine but fear for your job or feel that your employer is placing you under extreme pressure to receive the COVID-19 vaccination, please get in touch with Noble Solicitors today on 07000 818283. Equally, if you are an employer who has an employee(s) who are refusing the vaccination or staff who do not want to work with those refusing the vaccine please contact us. We will take the time to assess your situation, providing expert advice, drawing upon our vast pool of knowledge to solve the difficult circumstances you currently face.

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