Everything you need to know about vaccine refusals

Alan Price – Chief Operations Officer

March 02 2021

Studies show that 30% of adults could refuse the COVID-19 vaccine.

And when you want to safely reopen your business, that’s a real concern. If your staff refuse the vaccine, it could put your other employees or visitors at risk.

Here’s everything you need to know about vaccine refusals.

It’s not the law to take the vaccine

Refusing the vaccine isn’t against the law. In fact, the government can’t introduce any laws that force people to take medical treatment. So don’t expect the COVID-19 vaccine to be written into the law any time soon.

That means you can’t expect your staff to take the vaccine – even if you’re worried about your other employees.

But it doesn’t mean you can’t make your position clear. If you’d like to encourage staff to consider the vaccine, you can share your stance in your employee handbook.

Enforcing vaccines could lead to a tribunal

While there’s a possibility the vaccine could be essential for NHS or care workers, it’s unlikely to be enforced in other sectors.

Of course, encouraging staff to take the vaccine is part of being a responsible employer. But giving your staff no choice could result in a tribunal.

It’s understandable you’re worried about the safety of your staff – but dismissing an employee for refusing the vaccine could potentially lead to a legal dispute. You could face a costly unfair dismissal claim if you go down this route.

And if staff feel forced to choose between their job or taking the vaccine, they could claim for constructive unfair dismissal. This means it’s risky to change your employees’ contracts to make the vaccine essential – although you could have a valid reason to do this, like if you work in the care sector.

Some employees could have a valid reason for refusing the vaccine. For example, they might:

  • Be pregnant
  • Have medical conditions or a disability
  • Have certain religious, cultural, or philosophical beliefs

Since these qualities are protected under the Equality Act 2010, treating staff differently for refusing the vaccine could lead to a discrimination claim.

You could soon ask new staff to vaccinate

The justice secretary announced it could be possible to ask new staff to take the vaccine – if you add this to their contract before they join your business. So while it’s risky to change the rules for your current staff, you can ask new starters to vaccinate.

There are certain things to think about, however. As young adults are last in line for a jab, you could prevent younger staff from applying for your new roles. And this could equal age discrimination.

Plus, you need to word your contract very carefully. Some applicants could have valid reasons for refusing the vaccine, and you can’t prevent these people from applying.

Take other steps to protect your staff

As an employer, you need to take steps to keep your staff safe and healthy. So if your staff refuse the vaccine, you should make sure they’re protected in other ways.

You might work in an industry where taking the vaccine could save lives – like in a care home. If that’s the case, it’s understandable if you’re considering disciplinary action for staff who refuse.

But if you dismiss staff without considering other ways to keep them safe, you could lose an unfair dismissal claim. Before you head down the disciplinary route, consider if you can:

  • Continue to offer remote work
  • Keep up with social distancing
  • Use personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Make your workplace COVID-secure

Encourage vaccine uptake in your workplace

Some of your staff might be concerned about taking the vaccine. And that’s understandable, especially when there are so many false rumours flying around. To help your staff make an informed decision, you can:

  • Lead by example – sharing your plans to take the vaccine could reassure your staff.
  • Provide paid time off for vaccine appointments – this could encourage staff who are worried about losing any wages.
  • Share reliable news about the vaccine – like the NHS website or WHO resources.

Stay on top of vaccinations at work

When it comes to your staff and vaccines, it’s good to know who’s had their dose. It helps you make important decisions like: do you need to take extra steps to protect anyone?

The good news is, BrightHR gives you the tools to keep track. With VaccTrak, you can safely and securely stay on top of who’s had the vaccine in your business.

Share your approach with a vaccine policy

With a COVID-19 vaccine policy, it’s easy to keep your staff informed. For example, you can include:

  • Whether you’ll keep track of who’s had the vaccine
  • How you plan to record and store staff’s vaccination data
  • Whether you encourage your staff to take the vaccine
  • If you’ll allow staff to take their vaccine during work hours
  • Whether you’ll offer paid leave for appointments

If you’d like an expert policy for your workplace, Peninsula is here to help. We’ll create a policy around you – so no matter which industry you work in, you can receive the most up-to-date and compliant guidance.

Not a Peninsula client? Simply call us on 0800 028 2420 to get the support you need.

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