Should you offer time off for vaccinations?

James Potts - Legal Services Director

March 02 2021

As the next phase of the rollout begins, you’ll soon hear the question: “can I take time off for my COVID-19 vaccination?”

But before you answer, there’s a lot to consider. Are you required to say yes? And if you grant time off, should you offer paid leave?

How you respond will act as a benchmark for future requests – so it’s important to get it right first time. Read on for our HR-approved advice on managing your staff’s vaccinations.

Am I legally required to allow staff time off for vaccinations?

In a word, no. Just like any medical appointment, it’s not the law to provide time off for vaccinations.

But that’s doesn’t mean you shouldn’t offer time off for vaccinations. While the government hasn’t released employer guidelines yet, you should look at your employee handbook – do you have an existing policy for GP or hospital appointments?

You might already allow time off for medical appointments. And if that’s the case, your staff can attend a vaccine appointment during working hours.

Can I ask staff to move their appointment?

Let’s imagine you don’t have policy for medical appointments. When an employee first asks about their vaccine appointment, you have two options: tell them to move the appointment outside working hours or grant the time off.

It’s best to allow staff to attend their original appointment where possible. Asking staff to change their slot could mean they’re waiting longer to receive COVID-19 protection. And when it comes to your employees’ health, it’s good to be flexible – even if it might be a little inconvenient.

If employees are offered a choice of appointments, you could advise them to choose the slot that causes the least disruption.

Is it risky to deny time off for vaccinations?

Denying time off could push back your employee’s vaccination date. And that could put their mental or physical well-being at risk – especially if they belong to a vulnerable group.

If your staff belong to a vulnerable group, they could qualify as disabled under the Equality Act 2010. That means you need to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to support them. This could include time off for vaccinations.

And vulnerable or not, denying time off could prevent your staff from taking the vaccine at all. Since a fully-vaccinated workplace is important for protecting the community, it’s not wise to discourage anyone.

Plus, you also have your team morale to think about. If you’d rather not risk upsetting your employees, it’s good to provide time off for vaccinations.

Should I offer paid time off for vaccinations?

This comes down to your existing policy. If you already allow paid time off for medical leave, that includes vaccine appointments.

Even if you don’t have a policy written down, think about how you’ve handled other appointments in the past. When an employee asks to visit the dentist or doctors, you might typically:

  • Allow paid time off
  • Allow paid time off but ask staff to work overtime
  • Offer unpaid leave or ask staff to use their holiday

If you don’t have existing guidelines for appointments, you’re not required to cover their pay – but it’s well worth considering. Offering paid leave for vaccine appointments can:

  • Encourage vaccine uptake in your workplace – which will protect everyone in your business.
  • Improve team morale – you’ll avoid upsetting any staff.
  • Boost your workplace image – do your bit to promote vaccine uptake and avoid negative PR.

Get your vaccine policy right from the start

It’s good to prepare your vaccine policy before all the requests start flying in. And as the NHS is aiming to protect the entire adult population by July, now’s the time to plan.

Imagine if you allowed paid time off for one employee but refused for another. While it might be an easy mistake to make at first, you could face accusations of unfairness.

Sharing a vaccine policy with your staff will rule out any confusion. And we’re here to help - our HR experts create watertight policies for businesses.

If you’re not a Peninsula client but would like our support, give us a call on 0800 028 2420. We’ll provide practical and expert advice to get your business through the vaccine rollout.

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