How to handle vaccine hesitancy at work
Following our previous work related vaccination article (Can I say ‘no’ to going to work if I have not yet had the vaccine?), our employment team advises on how to handle vaccine hesitancy in the workplace.
The UK’s vaccine rollout is being widely celebrated. However, there has been some documented vaccine hesitancy, and such hesitancy may be prevalent in younger people, many of whom have yet to be offered the opportunity. Further, some are advised not to be vaccinated.
The legal position concerning the relationship between vaccination and work is mostly as it was earlier in the year, if it is not actually more involved now that more is known; while it remains unlikely that the Government will legislate to make vaccination compulsory.
In short, it may be possible for certain employers to establish that it is necessary for their staff to be vaccinated, although this may, perhaps until more is known about the effectiveness of the vaccines, be limited to circumstances where the health and safety of staff, service users or third parties is especially at risk and the decision is taken reasonably.
Otherwise, with any of the following considerations potentially applying (possibly among certain others), determining the position is usually a fact dependent question:
- Vaccination may not be suitable in all circumstances, for example for those with immune system disorders or severe allergies.
- Requiring an employee to be vaccinated without their consent as a condition to providing them with work could cause such damage under the employment contract as entitling the employee to resign and bring a claim for constructive dismissal.
- The same could be indirectly discriminatory (on age, religion or belief, disability, pregnancy or maternity, sex, or race grounds), as well as, potentially, a breach of Article 8 (right to privacy) or Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion).
- It may not be simple to establish that vaccination is required on health and safety grounds. While evidence is growing that the vaccines are effective, there are still many unknowns; for example, how effective are they in preventing spread of the virus and for how long will any such protection last.
And that is not necessarily an exhaustive list.
It may be that a considered vaccination policy is already in place. Otherwise, for the time being, particularly where health and safety considerations may not be especially significant, one that supports and encourages vaccination and listens to concerns may well be the advisable approach. There may be an alternative to vaccination.