COVID-19 In The Workplace And Vaccination Policies

Blog Posted: Tuesday 30th March 2021 by

With the UK’s COVID-19 vaccination programme firmly under way, there is finally hope to a return to some kind of normality after a year of turmoil. Employers have been eagerly awaiting the vaccine, which could soon help employees return to the workplace and businesses reopen once again.

The UK Government is already considering making vaccines mandatory for care workers in order to protect vulnerable people in their care. It’s a move that could spark some controversy, but could it lead to further mandatory vaccination policies for employers?

Vaccine reluctance

The media has been full of reports of vaccine reluctance from different groups within the UK. Vaccine uptake has been reported as low amongst BAME groups and even NHS staff are refusing vaccines. There are several reasons for this, including misinformation about the safety of the vaccine. People are also concerned about the speed in which vaccines were approved for use. There are also individuals who may not be able to have the vaccine because of existing medical conditions.

While vaccination is ultimately a choice, ensuring the safety of others is crucial, and in areas such as the care and health industries will largely depend on having vaccinated workforces. While it is the UK’s Governments and Parliaments that will decide on the legal enforcement of the vaccine, Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, alongside other health leaders, are urging all NHS staff to take up the vaccine, highlighting that is there a duty for them to do so. Could other employers follow suit with their own employees?

Employer’s rights 

What rights do employers have to enforce vaccines in the workplace? Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers should take reasonable steps to reduce any workplace risks, which can include encouraging staff to take up vaccination in order to protect both themselves and other employees, customers, etc. 

Employers can support their employees by having discussions about the vaccine, including providing links to official guidance and resources that can help employees feel more informed. There are also some other measures that employers should consider to help boost vaccine take up, including:

  1. Providing paid leave for vaccine appointments
  2. Allowing paid sick leave for those who may suffer ill effects as a result of the vaccine – some of which have already been reported by those who’ve had the vaccine.
  3. Providing awareness sessions that can help employees understand the importance of vaccination to improve workplace safety.

Developing a vaccine policy for your workplace

Employers should consider developing a vaccine policy to help maintain health and safety in the workplace, this can sit alongside existing guidance to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Employees need to be supported throughout the process, by being protected from discrimination and disputes within the workplace, as well as support being offered to those who have questions about the vaccine or are refusing to take it up. For certain sectors, including healthcare workers, the Government has specific guidance which can be a useful resource for both employers, HR professionals and employees.

Guidance will need to be developed that is reasonable for your business and its employees, and should be agreed in consultation with them. If a mandatory vaccination policy is deemed necessary, this will need to be discussed with trade unions and legal teams before being implemented in a clear and accessible policy. The policy should include processes for raising an issue with the vaccine, and what will happen if an agreement can’t be reached, including potential dismissals. 

With vaccination being a crucial part of the fight against COVID-19, there is a duty on employers to create safe workplaces. A workplace vaccination policy could be vital for your business or organisation. Human Results specialises in the development of policies for business and organisations such as yours, if we can be of any assistance in development of your policy approach then please contact us on 01952 288361. 

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