Pros and cons of a mandatory vaccination policy
I’m sure you’ll agree, the covid-19 vaccine roll out is a controversial topic, that’s led to many heated debates amongst family and friends. With the likes of Jennifer Aniston admitting to cutting off unvaccinated friends, there’s no doubt that many people hold strong views on the matter.
However, it’s not just celebrities that are making their views on the vaccine known. Google, Facebook and Microsoft recently announced that their employees must be vaccinated against covid-19 before they return to work at their US offices.
With this in mind, we question whether employers should make it a mandatory requirement for all their employees to be double vaccinated. Read on for a list of pros and cons.
Benefits of introducing a mandatory vaccination policy
Protects your workforce
Requesting all your employees to be double vaccinated adds an additional safety measure. It protects your employees, customers and suppliers.
Having a vaccinated workforce is likely to reduce levels of absenteeism. This is because people who have had both vaccines aren’t currently required to isolate if they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for covid-19. In addition, employees who do catch covid-19, are likely to have less severe symptoms, if they are double vaccinated. Consequently, the time they need off work to recover is likely to be reduced in comparison with unvaccinated individuals.
Supports Health and Safety Requirements
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 obliges employers to take reasonable steps to reduce any workplace risks. Having a vaccinated workforce helps to show you are complying with this Act and doing all you can to protect your employees.
Drawbacks of introducing a mandatory vaccination policy
Risk of discrimination
The Equality Act 2021 protects employees with protected characteristics from discrimination within the workplace. Vaccination status is not a protected characteristic however many of the reasons for not getting a vaccination can be linked to a protected characteristic. Therefore, enforcing vaccinations could potentially lead to discrimination claims.
- Age: vaccinations have been allocated in age order from oldest to youngest. Although the number of employees who have not been able to receive a double vaccination due to their age is currently low, a vaccination requirement still has the potential to disadvantage younger employees.
- Pregnancy: on 16th April 2021 the government changed their guidance for pregnant women. They now recommend that pregnant women should be vaccinated. This reversal in advice has led to confusion and uncertainty with some pregnant women choosing to follow the original advice and remain unvaccinated.
- Sex: this is directly linked to pregnancy.
- Disability: for some people the clinical advice is not to have the vaccination.
- Religion or belief: employees may have refused to be vaccinated because of religious or philosophical beliefs.
Potential for workplace conflict
Making it a condition of employment will inevitably require a discussion about an employees’ vaccine status. Some employees may not be comfortable with sharing this information with their employer. As an employer there is nothing to stop you asking the question. However, before doing so you need to consider how you will deal with employees that have decided not to have the vaccine. Even if double vaccination does become a legal requirement for certain professions or sectors, dismissal on these grounds could lead to unfair dismissal claims.
Data protection challenges
Due to its sensitive nature, vaccination status is classed as special category information under General Data Protection Regulations. This gives it more protection than most of the other data you hold on your employees. You are therefore required to complete a data protection impact assessment (DPIA) prior to collecting the information in order to establish if you have a legitimate business reason for doing so.
Potential for unfair dismissal
Whether you can lawfully dismiss employees that refuse to have the vaccine, or refuse to provide their vaccine status, is not a straightforward matter. It could be argued that refusal is an unreasonable failure to comply with a reasonable management request. However, the question of what is unreasonable depends on the particular circumstances of the employee, and the risk that an unvaccinated employee poses to your business.
Even if legislation states that it is mandatory for your employees to be vaccinated, you must ensure you follow the correct procedures. This includes considering mitigating circumstances, exploring alternative options and ensuring you have a sound business reason to justify any sanctions you impose, before deciding to dismiss an employee.
Government guidance on vaccination policies in the workplace
With the exception of the care industry, the government’s stance is for employers to encourage rather than force employees to have the vaccination. Implementing a policy that encourages the uptake of the vaccine, rather than making it mandatory, removes many of the risks detailed above.
Covid-19 vaccinations webinar
For more information, you can watch a recording of our covid-19 vaccinations webinar. Our HR & Employment Law Expert, Michelle Hobson discusses collecting and storing vaccine information, permitted sick leave usage following the vaccine and developing a vaccine policy.