The UK’s COVID-19 vaccination programme is now in full swing and, according to the .gov website “Vaccines are a foundation of our way out of this pandemic and the best way to protect people from COVID-19, potentially saving thousands of lives”.
After a difficult 12 months for the country, the mood of the nation has been lifted by the news of the vaccines breakthrough and subsequent approval for use. With the programme being hailed as a huge success so far, the light at the end of the tunnel appears to be getting brighter week by week. However, it’s clear that the success of the vaccination programme is reliant on the continued take-up by the vast majority of the population in order to achieve herd immunity.
The initial phase of the rollout has seen the clinically vulnerable and elderly members of society being first in line, along with frontline workers in the Health and Social care sectors. Current plans see the vaccine being widely available to all adults by autumn 2021.
As the rollout moves forward, and more and more of our working population become eligible, in turn, this is going to lead to employers considering their responsibilities and any potential issues which may arise.
CAN EMPLOYERS REQUIRE EMPLOYEES TO BE VACCINATED?
Vaccination in the UK is an individual’s personal choice; everyone can choose whether to accept the offer of the jab or not.
Whilst employers may be keen for their workforce to receive the vaccination as a pathway to getting normal operations back on track, for the majority of organisations, it is unlikely to be deemed reasonable to make it a mandatory requirement. The obvious exception is the healthcare sector, where refusal to be vaccinated could put the vulnerable at risk.
However, even in scenarios where mandatory vaccination can be reasonably justified, there are still circumstances where caution should be taken, particularly when refusal of the vaccine is relating to religious or philosophical beliefs or medical reasons. It’s best to approach these situations on a case by case basis.
Employers can support their workforce to make an informed decision regarding vaccination through internal communications and signposting to trustworthy and impartial information sources.
WHEN CAN WE RETURN TO ‘NORMAL’?
Regardless of the vaccination status of your workforce, all COVID measures must remain in place in line with Government guidelines until these dictate otherwise.
Despite the vaccine, employers should consider that, for some employees, there may be a reluctance to return to an office setting even at the point it is deemed safe by Government to do so. It is advisable for organisations to think ahead as to how this might be approached and what support could be offered, such as phased returns.
CAN EMPLOYERS ASK EMPLOYEES TO PROVIDE EVIDENCE OF VACCINATION?
As current guidelines dictate COVID measure remain in place, for the majority of workplaces, there is little justification for a need to collect this information at the moment.
This may be reviewed as the situation progresses. However, a worker’s vaccination status falls within the category of sensitive personal data, and as such, employers should be aware of any obligations under GDPR and privacy laws.
**Please note this blog is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for taking your own legal advice**