Vaccination and the Workplace
23 June 2021
The roll out of the COVID-19 vaccination programme is now in full swing and employers have been left grappling with questions about their legal obligations, whether vaccination should be compulsory for certain job roles and the extent to which employers can encourage their workforce to take the vaccine.
The Labour Relations Agency (LRA) recently released ‘A Practical Guide to COVID-19 Vaccination and the Workplace’ which seeks to help employers who are grappling with many of the complex considerations, to focus on and understand what they need to do. By way of key highlights, in consideration of an employer’s role and its obligations, the guide outlines the following:
- In the context of the vaccination programme, the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 Order gives employers justification to encourage employees to be vaccinated;
- Employers should engage with employees and trade union representatives and share accurate, credible and reliable information to help employees make informed choices about the vaccine;
- To minimise spread, employers may consider regular voluntary virus testing;
- Taking the vaccine is a personal choice. Employers can promote a persuasive case for the vaccine but for those employees who are hesitant, it is important that employers listen to the employee’s concerns, take them seriously and respect confidentiality;
- It is recommended that employers retain all documentation / communications to encourage vaccine uptake as evidence of the steps taken to comply with health and safety obligations;
- Risk assessments should be updated;
- Data in respect of vaccination status is sensitive data and the relevant data protections apply;
- Enforcing mandatory vaccination and / or dismissal for an employee failing to be vaccinated may give rise to unfair / constructive dismissal claims;
- An employee may refuse the vaccine for reasons relating to a protected characteristic and to enforce mandatory vaccination may give rise to discrimination claims;
- Employers should bear in mind employee relations; and
- It is recommended that employers have a vaccination in the workplace policy.
Aside from the vaccination programme, it is important to keep in mind that the vaccine is only one of a number of protection measures that an employer can put in place for its workplace. The vaccine should work alongside regular hand washing, use of face coverings and social distancing to reduce transmission and employers should continue to comply with and follow public health advice and any relevant statutory obligations.
If you would like any further information or advice, please do not hesitate to get in touch with our Employment team.
*This information is for guidance purposes only and does not constitute, nor should be regarded, as a substitute for taking legal advice that is tailored to your circumstances.