“What if my employees refuse to take the coronavirus vaccine?”

Alan Hickey

January 12 2021

For many, the COVID-19 vaccine is a welcome turn of events. After all, it will provide a way out of the pandemic crisis and bring about the lifting of restrictions.

What we’re seeing now is some curiosity around whether employers could insist on staff taking the coronavirus vaccine.

Can employers adopt a mandatory coronavirus vaccination policy?

The decision to take a vaccine will ultimately be a personal one for the employee to make. Irish citizens enjoy a broad set of personal rights that are protected by the Constitution. These rights include a right to refuse medical treatment.  

So, in the absence of a specific law requiring employees to take the COVID-19 vaccine, employers don’t appear to have any legal basis to adopt a mandatory vaccination policy.  

As matters stand, our view is therefore that employers would be on shaky legal ground if they look to make vaccination a condition of employment.

At present, the Irish authorities recommend various vaccination programmes, but none are compulsory.

There is also no evidence to suggest that the government is going to implement a blanket instruction for every person in Ireland to have the vaccine.

Whether employers would therefore be able to ban people who refuse to take the vaccine from coming into work could only be determined on a case by case basis.

What about particular industries and workplaces?

Some industry sectors may look to make the coronavirus vaccine mandatory for particularly acute health & safety reasons.

For example, businesses in the caring sector or health service will likely want to reduce the chances of a workplace COVID-19 outbreak. They will see the vaccine as a critical method for doing this. That said, we are not aware of any confirmation that any sector is currently considering mandatory vaccination policies.

And for workplaces that don't involve caring for vulnerable people, such as offices or retail? Well, it may be more difficult to try and put in place a requirement to take the vaccine.

Why would an employee not take the coronavirus vaccine?

There could be several reasons why employees don't want to take the vaccine. They may have been advised not to due to a pre-existing disability. The prospect of taking it may be having a negative effect on their mental health. They may object to the vaccine due to their religious beliefs.

If they're sanctioned for refusing to take the vaccine, such as being banned from coming into work or dismissed, the business may face a costly discrimination claim.

It appears that restrictions will need to stay in place for some time even with vaccine rollout underway. For now, employers should remain patient and see how the situation develops.

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