As the vaccine rollout continues throughout the UK, it’s providing a light at the end of the tunnel for businesses owners, who’ve spent the last year facing gruelling lockdowns and creating COVID-secure workplaces.
However, the question of whether or not employers can make the vaccine mandatory for their people is a persistent one, with no clear answer.
In this exclusive opinion piece, Citation Health & Safety consultants George Craig and Helen Hill discuss the practical and moral considerations employers must make in regard to the vaccine.
As Health & Safety practitioners, the recent news articles around the owner of Pimlico Plumbers, Charlie Mullins, planning to impose a “no jab, no job” policy for his workforce, really got us thinking about the Health & Safety implications of having such a policy.
What are the conflicts between our duty of care to protect the Health & Safety of our employees vs protecting their HR rights, along with any medical rights/confidentiality issues that may arise?
We can think of several occupations in which making the jab compulsory could have great benefits – care settings, the NHS, the travel industry, teaching, to name just a few. Let’s face it, we all want to get back to some sort of normality.
The moral side to the question poses a dilemma though. As an employer, you need to ensure that your employees are safe and the people that they come into contact with are not harmed by their actions.
Imagine you run a care home where the safety of your staff and residents would be at risk from this virus. If your staff bring the virus to work and pass it to residents, then are you liable?
If so, you would want to be able to insist that your employees have the jab, and should you consider dismissing staff that refuse? On the other hand, if you insist that your employees have the jab and then one has a severe reaction to it, you could face a fine from the HSE or a civil claim from your employee.
We only need to look at the recent news story where a care home in Basingstoke lost 22 residents after they tested positive for COVID-19. When the pandemic is under control, we imagine that the families of the deceased will be looking at collective action for the failings leading to the loss of their loved ones.
Although Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 does require employers to take all reasonably practicable steps to reduce workplace risks to their lowest practicable level, it does not include insisting that staff have a vaccine.
However, we do need to reduce the risk of catching or spreading COVID-19 to others at work! We can and should strongly encourage staff to take the vaccine when it is offered to them. One strategy employers can consider is offering paid time off so that staff can go and have the vaccination.
Although, even if staff have had the vaccine, it does not mean that we can relax our efforts in making our workplace COVID-secure. Until the vast majority of the population are vaccinated, and we start seeing signs of herd immunity, these precautions will need to remain and are still the best way of protecting our staff.
As with all Health & Safety processes, we would recommend that we start with a risk assessment and determine what the real risks to our business are and use this to make informed policy decisions.
These are uncertain times, especially for employers and business owners. Our Health & Safety experts are tracking the news and latest government updates to help you understand what’s available to you to keep your business running throughout the coming weeks of changes.
Keep an eye on our latest articles, free guides and social media for more advice and guidance. As a Citation client, you can call our advice line on 0345 844 4848 and our dedicated team will be available to offer you support, whenever you need it.
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