To jab or not to jab – that, it seems, is the question (for some).

Since the first COVID-19 vaccinations began taking place here in the UK, the media has been awash with stories about vaccine hesitancy, prompted by cultural issues, lack of trust, or fears over reported side effects.

With employers having a duty of care to ensure a safe working environment for all, how then, do you deal with existing employees who choose not to take the vaccine?

Essentially, it needs to be looked at on a case-by-case basis.

The legal position remains unchanged* – the vaccine is not mandatory and so forcing employees to have the vaccine could potentially amount to a discriminatory act and/or form a breach of an employee’s human rights.

Employers can argue that the duty of care to keep everyone safe is paramount and that failing to take a vaccine when it is offered is putting other lives potentially at risk.

This is particularly the case, for example, in the care industry where employers are charged not only with keeping their employees safe but also protecting the users of the care services being provided.

However, until such time as we start to see this being challenged in an employment tribunal, it is still difficult to know how the courts will view it.

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It is possible to take the stance that it is a reasonable management instruction for employees to take the vaccine, when offered, where the business case justifies it. This needs to be applied with care however, as some may be unable to have the vaccine on medical grounds.

Consideration can also be given to modifying responsibilities or moving employees into different roles where this can be accommodated, but again, caution is needed where this might be seen to form a detriment to the employee.

What employers can do is signpost employees to reliable sources of information about the vaccine to help them make an informed choice.

The website has some good links to the web pages for each of the vaccines currently licensed in the UK – Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna. The NHS website is also a useful source of information.

Be open and approachable for those who wish to discuss their views on the topic – regardless of your own beliefs – and encourage an inclusive work environment in order to prevent employees who choose not to be vaccinated being singled out for different treatment.

Putting a vaccine policy in place will also help to set out the corporate view.

If you would like to talk to us about helping you to create a policy which is bespoke to your environment, give us a call and arrange a chat with our friendly and knowledgeable team of consultants.

*Note that this article was written in April 2021 and legal changes should be reviewed before deciding to impose your own approach.