As the vaccination roll out programme continues, it plunges many employers into uncharted territory when it comes to their obligations. Whilst it’s not currently mandatory and unlikely to reach the majority of the workforce yet, employers should plan ahead to consider how they will communicate their stance and deal with potential resistance from staff.
Employees who have already been vaccinated
The government guidance for anyone who has already been vaccinated is to continue to follow the COVID-19 secure workplace procedures as they could potentially transmit the virus to unvaccinated people.
For those staff who are classed as clinically vulnerable, and have been shielding as a result, they may be able re-enter the workplace after the second dose. However, this would only be in cases where it’s essential for them to do so, and would need a risk assessment before returning.
Vaccine roll-out programme
It’s not mandatory for anyone to have the vaccine, but is desirable and employers will play an important role in encouraging take-up. As the programme gathers momentum, businesses now need to plan ahead and to consider the implications for:
- Visitors and contractors
- Workplace conflicts
There are a number of implications to consider including contractual terms, data protection and avoiding discriminatory claims.
What are your obligations as an employer?
It’s your duty to protect staff whilst at work, and take reasonable steps to reduce any workplace risks, under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. This will include encouraging employees to be vaccinated in order to protect themselves and colleagues in the workplace.
Government advice is for employers to effectively communicate the benefits and help to dispel potential myths. Many staff will be looking for a steer from their employer on what is or isn’t expected.
- Running awareness campaigns with staff: using reliable, accurate information from NHS or Public Health England.
- Tailor your information to your employee demographic. For example, if you have a young workforce the BBC has lots of useful guidance presented by younger people in a way that will create engagement.
- Brief all line managers on your approach so that information and messaging is delivered consistently.
- Counteract and address inaccurate information staff may have seen on social media.
- Engage with staff individually, and in confidence, if they have concerns around being vaccinated. Listen to their concerns and be non-judgmental, whilst explaining the benefits to the wider workforce.
- Run webinars or meetings to discuss and share the information available.
- Take into consideration those who may not be able to have a vaccine due to health reasons.
- Lead by example and demonstrate that managers and business owners will be vaccinated.
Do you need a coronavirus vaccination policy?
It is a good idea to create a policy which will set out your position as an employer and leaves no room for ambiguity.
This should include:
- Your business stance on the vaccine – that whilst it’s not a requirement, it’s encouraged.
- Time off – will you allow time off for vaccinations (paid?) which will signal your support.
- Consider allowing staff time off to take part in the vaccine volunteering programmed.
What to do if staff are unable to or refuse the vaccine
There are many reasons why staff may refuse a vaccine which could be based on religious or ethical grounds, or simply on mis-information. You cannot legally force your staff to have the vaccine, and you would have to be mindful of claims of discrimination if you did. Be aware that some employees may not be able to have the vaccine due to health issues ( separate advice currently exists for pregnant women).
- Risk assessments to protect those who haven’t been vaccinated in the workplace (i.e., increased social distancing measures, PPE).
- Special measures for those who cannot be vaccinated to protect them. These include continued remote working or even a different role.
- Look at each case individually without judgement or bias. There are many reasons why people may refuse the vaccine, and during this heightened period of stress and anxiety these reasons could be amplified. Try to address the issues using the accurate information sources from Public Health England (for example, for those who fear the vaccines contain animal products there is clear guidance that this is not the case. For those worried about side effects, Public Health England has clear advice on ingredients).
Should you make changes to contracts?
It may be beneficial to add clauses to new contracts, and amendments to existing contracts, to cover vaccinations. However, this would only be enforceable where an individual consented to the contractual amendments / update, which would normally be obtained via consultation with staff.
Should you record details of staff who have been vaccinated?
There are no plans to roll out a national vaccine passport, but vaccination cards currently serve as proof of inoculation. It is reasonable for employers to ask staff if they have been vaccinated, as it feeds into creating a secure working environment to protect the wider workforce. This is particularly relevant for those in healthcare settings.
However, be aware of data protection rules as this information is classed as special category personal health data and will need to be stored securely (to comply with data protection rules).
Whilst social distancing rules look likely to remain for the foreseeable future in the workplace, there is an argument against collecting and storing this data.
Should you offer incentives to encourage staff to be vaccinated?
Offering time off for vaccination appointments should be encouraged. However, offering any sort of financial incentive or reward could discriminate against staff who are unable to have the vaccine.
Further down the line it may be possible to pay for private vaccinations, which could be classed as a non-taxable benefit.
How to deal with conflict between employees
Be mindful that conflict could arise between those who have different opinions or beliefs. This is why a policy is essential to communicate the company’s stance to all staff. Empathize with those who do not agree with the policy, but emphasize that it’s the only way to protect staff and keep the workplace safe.
In the workplace
Whilst your business may have a vaccine policy in place to protect employees, how will you manage other visitors to the workplace? Consider whether you will require others (such as contractors or agency staff) to have been vaccinated and how this will be communicated.
Social distancing measures will continue in the workplace and the COVID-secure measures will be the same as they were previously. Therefore, you should continue to encourage your staff to carry on with these practices to keep everyone safe.
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