At last week’s webinar a question was raised around employers requiring employees to have the Covid-19 vaccine. We asked legal experts Hill Dickinson to give us their views:

This is a highly sensitive issue because polls show that many people are very worried about having the vaccination.  The vaccine is currently being administered based on strict medical priority, and it may be quite some time before it is available privately. However, even when it is more freely available, a number of legal risks may arise from mandating that employees have a coronavirus vaccination. Firstly, doing so will amount to a change in terms and conditions, which will require the employee’s (and possibly trade union’s) consent. It is likely that some employees will resist, due to their concerns about the vaccine’s safety, or because they object to being compelled to undertake a medical procedure (albeit a minor one). Requiring mandatory vaccination may also lead to discrimination claims based on disability (if a disability makes vaccination unsuitable), or religious discrimination (if workers have religious objections to the vaccine), so there should always be exemptions. There are also risks associated with dismissing employees who refuse to be vaccinated; we do not yet know whether it is possible to fairly dismiss them, particularly in lower risk sectors such as construction.

Due to those legal risks, employers may want to adopt an approach that is more ‘carrot’ than ‘stick’, by taking steps to encourage voluntary vaccination. Educating staff about the safety of the vaccine and its benefits may greatly increase uptake. Offering incentives, such as additional holiday, may also tempt people to be vaccinated.  Just remember, that the details of who in your workforce is vaccinated will be ‘health data’, so special data protection safeguards therefore apply.

Emma Ahmed and Michael Wright, Hill Dickinson