Thanks to the efforts of the NHS and thousands of volunteers, the UK’s coronavirus vaccine rollout has ensured that just over 45 million people have had their first dose and more than 33 million people have had their second dose. The rollout has now reached people aged 18 and above in England and it seems as if the government is on track to offer a first dose to all adults by 19 July.
But not everyone who is eligible has taken up the offer of a jab, for a variety of reasons – and not all of them are health related. And this fact alone might prove to be a headache for employers, who are in effect the gatekeepers for the health and safety of their employees.
No jab, no job!
The controversial no jab no job headlines that were being discussed earlier in the year for existing staff, haven’t yet come to fruition. Legal professionals were quick to point out the issues that could be faced, namely unlawful discrimination on the grounds of disability, race or age.
But this didn’t apply to certain sectors, more recently CGC-registered care home employees, have been told that they will be required to have the COVID-19 vaccine, unless they have a medical exemption. With compulsory vaccination required in one industry, surely it won’t be long until other areas are subject to similar instructions. Currently the Government are consulting on whether it may be necessary to extend mandatory vaccinations to other parts of the health, adult and social care sectors. In addition, staff who work in oversees locations, or travel a lot, may be up for greater scrutiny in the coming months too.
What’s the right vaccine approach?
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 obliges employers to take reasonable steps to reduce any workplace risks; this duty gives employers justification for encouraging their employees to be vaccinated to protect themselves and everyone else at the workplace.
But without vaccinations being mandatory, employers can only advise and support staff in getting the COVID-19 vaccine once it’s offered to them. For employers who want a vaccinated workforce, we recommend widely publicising the benefits to improve take up. Engagement and good communication using impartial and accurate factual information will help employees to make informed decisions about the workplace impact and risks of COVID-19.
But as we heard recently from journalist Andrew Marr, there’s always a chance that someone might get Covid-19, even when they have had both vaccines. So, whilst it is good for employees to get the vaccine, they also need to play their part afterwards and follow strict hygiene and social distancing guidelines.
Whatever happens, vaccination should only be one part of an employer’s COVID-19 secure measures. Employers can also help the health and safety of their workplace and all those in it by:
- Undertaking regular COVID testing.
- Reviewing health and safety and COVID-secure guidelines relevant to their industry.
- Allowing employees to work from home if possible.
- Changing the employee’s role/responsibilities to minimise any risks.
- Having policies in place for agency staff, contractors, visitors and other third parties who may be allowed into the workplace.
Avoid vaccine conflict
Of course, there may be differences of opinion in the workplace with pro-vaccine staff and those more sceptical and refusing to have the vaccine. Employers should proactively intervene in such disputes, try to resolve any issues amicably and take steps to avoid potential conflict.
But it is probably not a stretch of the imagination to see that staff retention could be affected if big brother tactics are brought into play. We recommend that employers agree a vaccine policy that’s appropriate for their staff and their organisation and keep good working relationships and support staff however and whenever they can to protect their ongoing health and wellbeing.
If you need specialist HR help and assistance so your workforce is healthy and supported, please get in touch.