The UK vaccine programme is continuing at a pace, with thousands being jabbed every day. However, around one third of those under 30 remained unvaccinated. As organisations consider how and where their employees should work post-lockdown, many have questions about the vaccine and what they can and cannot ask their workforce. Our Senior HR Consultant, Melanie Darlington provides the answers to some of these questions.
Can I insist that my employees have the vaccine?
There is no legal way to force employee to have a vaccination. For justified health and safety reasons, an employer can ask an employee to get vaccinated. This might due to a concern for vulnerable colleagues or customers, who fall into a high-risk group. In this case, an employer could have a legitimate reason to make the request, but a robust risk assessment would need to be complete.
The one sector where this will change is the care sector. From 11 November, the vaccine will be mandatory for care home staff.
Can I organise for my employees to get vaccinated?
Private vaccinations are currently not available. Anyone over the age of 18 can now book an appointment through the NHS or they can go to a walk-in vaccine centre near to them.
If all my employees are vaccinated, do I still need to make my workplace COVID-19 secure?
The vaccination is not a substitute for other workplace COVID-19 safety measures, so it’s important that employers still follow the recommended guidelines. Keeping your risk assessment up to date is vital, as is regular communication with employees, giving them the most up to date information to avoid complacency. Maintaining social distancing, mandating the use of face masks and PPE where necessary, ensuring proper ventilation, regular thorough cleaning and providing hand washing facilities and sanitiser are all still needed to keep the workplace and employees safe.
Can I change my employment contract for new employees to stipulate they must have the vaccine?
As an employer cannot insist that an employee is vaccinated, adding this clause to a contract may be seen as discrimination. There are people who cannot have the vaccine for medical reasons and people with strong anti-vaccination beliefs maybe protected under equality laws. If an employer is considering this type of contract, they should seek legal advice first to understand what exemptions such a clause should include and whether this will benefit them as a business in the long run.
Can I ask my employee to let me know if they are getting the vaccine?
If you are asking your employees for this information, you must have a clear and compelling reason for doing this. Employers are bound by law to treat their staff fairly. If collecting this data is likely to have a negative impact on your employees, this could be seen as unfair. If the use of the data is likely to result in a high risk to an individual, such as the denial of employment opportunities, employers would need to complete a data protection impact assessment. Before doing anything, speak to your Data Protection Officer or the ICO. Also consult the latest government guidance for your sector to see what they advise.
What are the requirements for an organisation, if any, to keep a record of whether employees have received a vaccine or declined having one?
There is no obligation for employers to collect this type of information. If you decide to do so you must have legitimate reasons to capture it. This must be fair, relevant and necessary for your business and the reasons must be clear and compelling. An employee’s health information is private. Before going down this route, employers should ask themselves what they are trying to achieve. Consult your Data Protection Officer or the ICO for more information.
Can I ask prospective new employees if they have been vaccinated?
There is a general prohibition on employers asking prospective employees health related questions, which in this case could include whether they have had the vaccination. However, there are limited job roles where there are particular health and safety requirements, where the employer needs to know whether employees have been vaccinated or not, specifically in the care sector.
Can I insist that my employees are regularly tested for COVID-19?
The same rules apply for testing as they do for vaccinations – employers cannot force staff to be tested but they can recommend that they take them. If any employees are resistant to being tested, find out why. Arrange a meeting with them to understand what their reservations are so they can be addressed on an individual basis.
How can employers manage staff who have had the vaccine but will not come back into the workplace?
The answer depends on the reasons why an employee is reluctant to return to the workplace. There could be many reasons for their hesitancy. Invite the employee to a welfare meeting when they can discuss concerns and any issues can be addressed. Working with your employees in a collaborative way will help give them the confidence to return.
What are the requirements for workers coming from outside of the UK with regards to COVID-19 measures?
The requirements depend on what country the employee is travelling from. For each case, the employer should check the must up to date information available. There is an excellent travel check list available on the government website. Testing remains key and all precautionary measures should be taken to keep the workplace and your employees safe and healthy. If you have any other questions about the COVID-19 vaccine or any related areas to the pandemic, our expert consultants can help. Get in touch to find out how we could help you manage and protect your business.