This month saw the first people in Britain receive the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine. The rollout was dubbed 'V-Day' by Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
But, as the first 800,000 doses of the vaccine are being administered in the coming weeks in the UK, workers are beginning to ask about their rights and whether their employer can force them to be immunised - particularly as the vaccine could pave the way for employees to return to the workplace safely at some point next year.
Here Ella Bond, an employment solicitor at Harper James Solicitors, provides her expert advice on what employers and employees need to know.
‘At last - having a vaccine as a potential solution to the health crisis is welcome news indeed. But, despite successful testing, there remains some scepticism about the possible ramifications of having the vaccine, largely due to it being new to the market and the speed at which it has been developed. In addition, taking the vaccine may be contrary to some peoples religious or ethical beliefs.
A mandatory requirement by employers for employees to have the vaccine may lead to Human rights challenges and, depending on the circumstances involved, could give rise to claims of constructive unfair dismissal and/or discrimination.
Disseminating information or having policy documents in place outlining the benefits of being vaccinated are a good idea for employers to gently encourage their employees to be vaccinated without asserting any pressure. This would also be aided by companies actively supporting the arrangements for employees to be vaccinated, including signposting the information required for booking (when applicable) and providing paid time off work for employees to attend the vaccine appointments.
It is possible that there may be certain circumstances where the obtaining of the Covid vaccine arguably becomes a necessary job requirement (for example if vaccines become mandatory on airlines or in countries to which an employee is required to travel for the performance of their duties).
In such cases we can foresee an argument that it may be reasonable for an employer to have to consider the termination of an employee’s employment where they refuse to have the vaccine. However, the circumstances in which this could be relied on will be limited, correct procedures will need to be followed and the law is likely to evolve with time to place rules around how this may operate in practice. Employers should therefore seek legal advice before any such considerations are even proposed.’