Your COVID vaccine questions: answered

Alan Price – CEO at BrightHR

January 26 2021

It’s finally here: the COVID-19 vaccine we’ve all been waiting for.

As the government aims to offer millions of doses by spring, your staff could soon be lining up for a jab.

Of course, your priority is getting back to work as safely as possible. But your employees might have concerns about taking the vaccination – which could put you in a tricky position.

Read on to see how you can avoid any vaccine-related fallout in the workplace.     

Can I require my staff to have the vaccine?

There’s no one-size-fits-all rule for whether you can ask staff to have the vaccine. It all depends on the kind of work you carry out.

For example, social care workers deal with patients who are more vulnerable to COVID-19. If research reveals the jab stops the virus from spreading, asking social care staff to take the vaccine could save lives.

On the other hand, not every business has the same level of risk. Maybe your staff can comfortably work from home. Or maybe you just don’t come into contact with clients or customers on a regular basis.

If there’s no above-average risk to your staff or the public, you can’t expect your employees to take the vaccine.

Instead, it’s best to simply encourage your staff to consider it. Sharing trustworthy resources about the vaccine can help them make an informed choice.

What if my employee refuses to have the vaccine?

If an employee refuses the vaccine, it’s hard to know where to begin. After all, it’s probably not an issue you’ve dealt with in the past.

First, try checking the policies in your employee’s contract. If you work in the care sector, there might be a clause requiring staff to take vaccines relevant to their role. And if that’s the case, you have a clear argument to make taking the vaccine essential.

However, this is rare outside the care sector. It’s unlikely you’ll have a clause delving into vaccines.

So, there’s nothing in their contract – what next?

Now, you need to get to the bottom of why your employee is refusing the vaccine. This should help you plan your next steps. If staff members don’t trust the vaccine due to false rumours, you could provide them with reliable sources – like the NHS website.

If your employee won’t take the vaccine due to personal or religious reasons, it’s worth thinking about how you could keep them safe instead.

Measures could include:

Is it risky to require my employees to take the vaccine?

If you require employees to take the vaccine without good reason, you could face a tribunal claim.  

Your employee could have a reasonable reason to refuse. For example, they might:

  • Be pregnant
  • Have certain medical conditions
  • Have certain religious beliefs

If that’s the case, treating them less favourably for not taking the vaccine could be discrimination. And staff who feel forced to choose between their job or taking the vaccine could claim for constructive dismissal.

On top of the legal fallout, you could also seriously hurt your relationship with your staff.

So instead of requiring your staff to take the vaccine, you could strongly advise it – without making it essential.

You could consider dismissal as a last resort. You can only do this if you have a strong case (like if you work with vulnerable patients).

And before you consider this stage, you’ll need to explore alternative ways to keep your employee safe at work. Otherwise, you could face an unfair dismissal claim.

How can I encourage an uptake of the vaccine?

For some employees, it’s a definite ‘no’.

However, some employees might be sitting on the fence. It’s entirely reasonable to have some questions about taking the vaccine. In this situation, it’s all about easing any concerns and making the process as simple as possible.

Here’s how you can boost uptake of the vaccine in your workplace:

  • Share reliable resources about the vaccine
  • Provide paid time off for vaccine appointments
  • Allow staff to take appointments during working hours
  • Lead by example – talk about your plans to get the vaccine
  • Offer full sick pay for staff suffering any side effects

Do I need a vaccine policy?

A vaccine policy isn’t a requirement – but it certainly makes life a little easier.

For a start, it’s a handy way to make your stance on vaccines clear. And with COVID-19 showing no signs of disappearing soon, vaccines could be here to stay – so keeping your guidance on record will clear up any confusion in the future.

Imagine if you provided time off for one employee’s vaccine appointment and refused for other team members. To avoid any unfairness in the workplace, it helps to have a policy for everyone to follow.

Your policy could cover:

  •   Your stance on taking the vaccine i.e. whether you encourage employees to take it
  •   How you record staff vaccinations – for example, you could use the BrightHR VaccTrak to stay on top of who’s had the vaccine in your business
  •   Pay during time off for appointments
  •   Time off for vaccine appointments
  •   Whether you need proof of appointment

At Peninsula, we take the confusion out of creating employee policies. With our support, you can keep all your staff on the same page – and rule out any inconsistency within your business. It means you won’t need to question your next steps each time a vaccine query comes your way.

Interested? Discover how our documentation and contract support could help you.

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