The Covid-19 vaccine – what considerations should employers be thinking about?

18 Jan 21 by Charlotte Ashton
Covid-19 vaccine

With Covid-19 vaccines being approved for use in the UK, and the government's push to have a rapid roll out, employers are keen to understand their rights around ensuring employees have the vaccine and are as protected against the virus as possible. Our senior solicitor Charlotte Ashton provides this insight.

The aim of the vaccine roll out is to be able to control the virus and ease restrictions, and this clearly has economic implications for businesses of all sizes. Employers are particularly keen to safeguard their staff and keep workplaces safe. This is especially important for businesses operating in the care sector.

Pimlico plumbers have been in the news for stating that they will require new hires to prove that they have taken the vaccine and deal with employees on a case-by-case basis where they do not have the vaccination.

The key question is, what can employers do to ensure that they protect their staff, their customers, and the public? And can they require employees to get a vaccine?

Some guidance is available from Acas, its view is that in some situations disciplinary action may be appropriate where someone refuses to get the vaccine.

However, we would urge caution before enforcing any requirement for the vaccine. There are likely to be discrimination issues – particularly disability and religious discrimination but also sex discrimination on grounds that some women may be reluctant to get it when considering planning a family. If an employer feels very strongly that a vaccine is required for an employee to carry on doing their job, they should deal with this on a case-by-case basis and disciplinary action or dismissal should be a last resort.

For employers wanting to encourage and promote the Covid vaccine, they should consider the following:

  • Consulting with employees and any trade union about how any policy around the vaccine will work in practice
  • How necessary the vaccine is to the employer’s continued operation
  • Whether the benefits of the vaccine can be obtained through continuing to adhere to social distancing, PPE, and other health and safety measures. It may not be appropriate for a long time, if at all, to remove current protections and rely solely on a vaccine
  • Review what alternatives there are for employees who cannot, or will not, get the vaccine
  • The data protection implications where processing information about staff who have or have not had the vaccine.

This is likely to be an area of great contention between employers and employees, and case law is inevitable. Employers should take full advice before implementing any requirement for an employee to have the vaccine and be cautious about making blanket policies which could result in discrimination claims.


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Post by Charlotte Ashton

Senior Solicitor – Head of Immigration, ESP Law Ltd

Charlotte has over 10 years’ experience in all aspects of employment law, having qualified as a solicitor in 2009. She trained in-house with a large UK company, covering 45,000 employees, and moved to private practice on qualification. Charlotte enjoys helping growing companies understand their legal obligations and has given training and presentations to start up entrepreneurs, and business students, at a local University. Charlotte also specialises in business immigration law for the UK and has helped employers obtain sponsor licences in order to recruit from outside the UK.