Q&A | Mandatory vaccination for healthcare workers in the UK

Peninsula Blog

November 12 2021

The government has proposed to make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for frontline healthcare staff in England.  

And this affects your workforce, now’s the time to act. From updating contracts to redeploying staff, there’s a lot to do before the new rules come into force.

Call us now on 0800 028 2420 or read on to get the information you need…

Q: What does the coronavirus vaccine update mean for my business?

A: The government announced that all frontline health and social care staff in England need to take the COVID-19 vaccine. Unless your staff are medically-exempt, you can no longer employ unvaccinated workers after the deadline.

Q: Will the COVID vaccinations be mandatory for all NHS staff?

A: All front-facing health and social care workers in England will need to take the COVID-19 vaccine – not just NHS workers.  

Along with 630,000 clinical NHS staff, this could include:

Dentists Private healthcare staff
Pharmacists Social workers
Midwives Paramedics 
Domiciliary care staff Hospice workers
General practise staff Non-clinical healthcare staff, like receptionists
Agency workers and contractors in frontline roles Volunteers and students in frontline roles
Homecare providers Medical transport services

However, staff who don’t work with patients on a face-to-face basis won’t need to take the vaccine.  

Q: When will the mandatory vaccination rules kick in?

A: Healthcare workers will need to be fully-vaccinated from 1 April 2022. After this point, you will need to redeploy or dismiss any unvaccinated staff – unless they’re medically exempt.

Q: When will healthcare staff need to take the vaccine?

A: Since there’s a eight-week gap between two doses of the COVID vaccine, workers need to take their first jab no later than 4th February.

Between now and then, you need to check the level of vaccine uptake in your workforce. If you still have staff who haven’t taken their first dose, you now have twelve weeks left to encourage them.

Q: How will I get proof that my staff are vaccinated?

A: Staff can prove their vaccination status via the NHS COVID-19 app. All vaccinated workers should have a ‘domestic’ COVID pass to show that they’re fully jabbed.

Once you receive proof of vaccination, you can track the level of uptake in your workforce with tools like VaccTrak via BrightHR.

Q: How should I let unvaccinated staff know their job is at risk?

A: First, send all of your employees a letter outlining:

  • The change in the law and when the rules kick in.
  • What it means for their employment.
  • When they need to get vaccinated to keep their job.

Then, arrange a one-to-one meeting with your employees ahead of the deadline to see whether they’ve taken the vaccine.  

To give your vaccine-hesitant staff enough time to reconsider, you should do this as soon as possible.

If your employee refuses to take the jab, consider whether you could move them to a non-frontline role. If you can’t do this, you will need to dismiss them at the April deadline.

Q: What are the medical exemptions for non-vaccinated healthcare staff?

A: Some workers will be unable to take the vaccine due to medical reasons. These can include:

  • Learning disabilities, autism, or a combination of impairments which mean vaccination cannot be provided through reasonable adjustments.
  • Severe allergies to all currently available vaccines.
  • People who had an adverse reaction to the first dose (for example, myocarditis).

No exemption is available on race or religious grounds.

Q: Can medically-exempt staff still work in a front-facing role?

A:Yes, medically-exempt staff can still keep their frontline role.

However, allowing a non-vaccinated employee to work with the public could be risky – as it could expose them to the virus and impact their health.

Instead, you could consider: 

  • Changing their duties.
  • Offering remote work.
  • Redeployment. 

Remember, you should involve your employee in any decision you make.  

You should avoid dismissal in this instance. As your employee can’t control their health condition, they could claim for unfair or constructive dismissal. Or if your employee’s condition falls under the Equality Act 2010, you could face a discrimination claim.

Q: How will workers prove that they’re medically exempt?

A: It’s not yet decided how workers will prove their medically-exempt status. Care home workers currently use the COVID-19 NHS app to show that they’re medically-exempt – so healthcare staff may do the same.

Q: Will I need to update staff contracts?

A: Yes, you will need to update your staff contracts. This is for both your current workforce and any future workers. You’ll need to add vaccination as a condition of their employment.

By law, your staff need to know about any changes to their written statement.

So, if you’re updating contracts to include mandatory vaccination, inform your staff in writing. You should do this within one month of making the change.

Q: How can I make vaccines mandatory in the workplace?

A: To meet the new government guidelines, you may need to make vaccination a condition of employment.

To do this, you need to:

  • Update staff contracts.
  • Redeploy or dismiss unvaccinated staff after the deadline.
  • Avoid hiring non-vaccinated workers for frontline healthcare roles (if they’re not exempt).

Q: What should I do if my healthcare staff don’t want the vaccine?

A: If you have vaccine-hesitant staff, direct them to trusted resources which highlight the benefits of the vaccine. This can help lessen any fears or anxieties.

You could also consider inviting a vaccine expert to host a talk at your workplace. This gives your staff chance to ask questions and get expert reassurance.

Q: How can I encourage vaccinations for NHS and healthcare staff?

A: You should make it as easy as possible for staff to attend a vaccine appointment. This could include providing paid leave for staff to attend appointments or recover from any side effects.

Other ideas include:

  • Running a vaccine awareness campaign with medically-accurate data.
  • Offer incentives for taking the vaccine, like an extra day’s holiday.

Q: How can I redeploy unvaccinated workers?

A: If still you have non-vaccinated staff after the deadline, you could move them to a non-frontline role.

First, consider what redeployment opportunities are available in your workplace. This could be at a new location or in a different department.

If your employee accepts the new role, you will need to provide them with an updated contract outlining their new terms. If they refuse, you will need to dismiss them on the April deadline.                                                                              

Q: Do I need to do anything before dismissing staff?

A: Dismissing unvaccinated (and non-exempt) staff should be your last resort. Before you get to this stage, you should:

  • Encourage staff to be vaccinated (unless they’re exempt).
  • Inform staff how their employment will change if they don’t take the vaccine.
  • Invite employees to a formal meeting ahead of the deadline.
  • See if you can change your employee’s duties or offer remote work.
  • Redeploy your employee to a different (non-frontline) role.

If you’ve ticked off all these steps and still have unvaccinated staff, you will need to dismiss them.

Q: Are there any risks involved in dismissing unvaccinated staff?

A: Yes. Even though you have no choice but to dismiss non-vaccinated staff, you could still face a tribunal claim.

This could occur if you dismiss unvaccinated staff who are medically-exempt. If your employee can’t take the vaccine, they could claim for unfair or constructive dismissal. Or, if their condition is a protected characteristic, they could claim for discrimination.

And even if your staff aren’t exempt, you could still face claims if you don’t follow a fair disciplinary process. So you’ll need to follow your internal procedure and stick to Acas guidance.

Got a question we haven’t answered?

Then call us today to claim your free consultation.

Whether you have a question about updating contracts or dismissing staff, call now on 0800 028 2420. You’ll get expert advice from an employment law expert, at no cost to you.

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