A mass Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination programme has started to be rolled out which aims to provide doses to up to four million people by the end of December. Although this is welcome news by many, some people may be reluctant to take the vaccine and there have been questions surrounding whether their employer can actually make them take it. Warren Moores, Employment Law Associate, outlines the current law and answers some frequently asked questions below.
Is It Permissible for Employers to Make Staff Take the Vaccine under UK Law?
The Government has not legislated for the vaccine to be mandatory. It is an individual person’s choice whether they wish to be vaccinated, therefore, there is no specific legislation which states that an employer can force an employee to take a vaccine, or that an employee can raise specific objection to refuse.
In theory, there is nothing preventing a company from making such a proposal or request to its employees. Practically, this is likely to be proposed as a “reasonable management instruction” to employees or a proposed contractual change.
Are There Any Legal Exceptions for Refusal?
Not specifically, however, there are some obvious reasons an employer is likely to face.
One of those could be the safety of the vaccine for any particular person. For example, some employees may not be able to receive the vaccine ( due to certain medication conditions for example).
Discrimination could also be an issue that employers might face. Some employees are likely to hold particular beliefs, religious or otherwise, which mean they object to taking the vaccination. These objections could be protected under discrimination law as religious or philosophical beliefs.
Can Employees Be Terminated If They Do Not Comply with Their Employer’s Request?
A number of employees might reject any such proposal or request based on various reasons, from concerns over safety or the fact that their company is seeking to force the employee to undergo what could effectively constitute a minor medical procedure.
Without agreement, the company would be faced with either unilateral imposition of the change, or terminating and offering re-engagement on the new terms. In a similar manner, if employees refused to follow reasonable management instructions, perhaps arguing that it is not reasonable, then employees could be disciplined or dismissed.
It’s easy to imagine any employment tribunal would have sympathy with someone who lost their job or was disciplined for not agreeing to be injected at the request of their employer.
It is no doubt fantastic news that we have a vaccine. However, companies should be extremely cautious about any plans to compel employees to take an injected vaccine. It is far more advisable to consider methods of achieving voluntary vaccination within their workforces.