The Covid Vaccine: A HR perspective

by | Mar 31, 2021 | Blog

As the COVID-19 vaccine begins to be rolled out across the country, many people are responding with scepticism and some are even declaring that they will refuse to take the jabs when it becomes available to them.

Worryingly, the WHO has listed this as one of the ten main threats to global health.

As the government is not permitted to force the vaccine on any UK citizen, a portion of the responsibility for getting the population vaccinated falls on employers.

Here, we offer answers to some frequently asked questions and offer our advice for encouraging your staff to get vaccinated.


1. Is it a legal requirement to be vaccinated when invited?


Currently, no. The government cannot force anyone to be vaccinated.

This extends to employers. As an employer, you are not legally permitted to force your employees to take the vaccine.


2. Can employers ‘instruct’ their employees to take the vaccine?

A contract of employment should include the employee’s duty to carry out a “reasonable instruction” from their employer if asked.

If an employee refuses to carry out what their employer deems to be reasonable, it can lead to a disciplinary for disobedience.

In this case, if you can justify that asking your staff to take the vaccine is a reasonable instruction, you can take action against an employee who refuses.

For example, if an employee’s refusal to take the vaccine puts others at risk, such as customers, patients, schoolchildren, etc. you could justify the request and may be able to take action.

For employees who are working from home and having limited face-to-face contact with people within their role, it will be a lot more difficult to enforce. In this case, it may be more appropriate to leave it up to the discretion of each individual.


3. What if an employee refuses to take the vaccine after their employer makes a reasonable request?

This depends on a number of factors. Most importantly, of course, is their reason for refusing.

A small number of people are unable to receive the vaccine due to severe allergies. It goes without saying that those who are advised not to take the vaccine should not be encouraged to do so. If you feel it necessary, you are entitled to ask for proof.

Others who may be exempt are those with certain religious or philosophical beliefs. These individuals are protected under the Equality Act 2010.

Vegans may also be except if they disapprove of the use of animal products in the development of the vaccine.

As the above will be relatively rare, the key challenge that people managers will be facing in the coming months will be encouraging those who are hesitant about the vaccine to change their opinion.

Managers should listen to these individuals’ concerns and offer understanding of their concerns. If you are unable to persuade them that taking the vaccine is the right decision, you should refer them to reliable and impartial information.

If these strategies aren’t effective, you may then want to consider taking action by way of a formal warning of disciplinary if appropriate.


4. What can employers do to encourage employees to get the vaccine?

Although it is perfectly reasonable for some employers to take disciplinary action against employees who refuse to take the vaccination, this, in our opinion, should not be the first resort.

A more effective method is creating a communication strategy that encourages or even incentivises employees to get the jabs.

People managers should consider compiling reliable information about the benefits of the vaccine and address the fears that many people are feeling towards it. With misinformation flying around social media and unreliable news sources, it is important to educate staff members.

The message should be consistent and communicated from all managers, not just the senior leadership team. It is important, as well, to ensure you emphasise the benefits to them and their family rather than focusing on how it helps the business.


5. Do employers need to offer time off for vaccinations?

There is no legal right for employees to be allowed time off for medical appointents, however employers should check their employment contracts to check their employees’ rights.

Whether they have the right or not, we imagine most employers will be keen to support the global push to vaccinate the population and curb the virus

It is worth noting that, currently, those who are of working age and eligible for vaccination are either frontline key workers or severely vulnerable.

The latter may therefore be protected under the Equality Act 2010, which means employers must make “reasonable adjustments” to meet their needs, which could include allowing time off for their vaccination.