MPs have recently approved compulsory vaccinations for care home staff in England, and from November, all care home staff will be required to be fully vaccinated, unless they have a medical exemption.
With the first introduction of compulsory vaccinations in the workplace, will we see more employers seeking to the do the same?
At the moment, employers are required by the government to take all reasonably practicable steps to reduce risk in the workplace. This means it’s unlikely that a compulsory vaccine policy would be considered reasonable in certain working environments, such as in an office or factory where other more practicable measures can be put in place to protect staff.
But can my employer alter my current employment contract to include a mandatory vaccination policy?
It is unlikely that an employer could reasonably amend an employment contract requiring employees to be vaccinated. But there are some sectors where the employer could argue that the employee needs to be vaccinated, for example for health and safety reasons or if an essential part of the role involves travelling to certain countries and proof of vaccination becomes a legal requirement to travel.
What if my employer changes my job role or dismisses me if I refuse to have the Covid-19 vaccination?
An employer could decide to change an employee’s job role or dismiss the employee, because they have refused to have the vaccine. This could give rise to indirect discrimination if the employee can link their objection to be vaccinated with a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. For example:
- Disability discrimination – an employee may be unable to have the vaccine due to a medical condition.
- Religion or belief discrimination – an employee may refuse to have the vaccine based on religious beliefs, or an employee who is an ethical vegan may refuse the vaccine because it has been tested on animals.
A mandatory vaccination policy could lead to a successful unfair dismissal claim if employees with over two years’ service are dismissed for refusing to comply, and an Employment Tribunal agrees that the refusal did not justify the dismissal.
A successful claim for constructive dismissal could be made if an employee resigns in response to a mandatory vaccination policy, because they object to having to work from home, or changing their job role to a role that their employer decides doesn’t require the vaccine.
New roles and compulsory vaccine requirement
Employers could make job offers conditional on proof of having been vaccinated. This is lawful, as long as they do not discriminate against potential applicants who are unable to have the vaccine due to a protected characteristic as described above.
Resolving your concerns about getting the vaccine
Unless you are employed in a sector where there are valid health and safety considerations, an employer is unlikely to be able to insist that you have the vaccine or take action against you for not doing so.
But if you have an issue with your employer about the vaccine, then you should speak with your employer to discuss any concerns. You can also talk to a trade union representative or a health and safety representative.
If your issue cannot be resolved informally, you can then escalate this formally by raising a grievance.