Vaccinations Within The Workplace - What Employers Need To Know

Vaccinations Within The Workplace - What Employers Need To Know

author

James Rowland

Commercial Director James leads Account Management, Sales and Marketing at Neathouse Partners.

Date

12 July 2022

Updated

11 July 2024
4 min read
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Despite the United Kingdom having one of the best vaccination rates in the world for all major health risks and diseases, vaccinations within the workplace have always been a controversial topic.

In recent years, with the new outbreaks of diseases such as measles and whooping cough, not to mention COVID-19, the debate has intensified. Some employers require employees to be vaccinated as a condition of employment, while others allow employees to opt out for religious or personal reasons.

Employer Approach To Vaccinations

There are pros and cons to both approaches. On one hand, mandatory vaccination can help to protect the health of employees and customers. On the other hand, some people believe that mandatory vaccination violates their right to freedom of religion or personal beliefs.

Your role as an employer is to ensure the safety and wellbeing of your staff and you need a healthy workforce to continue operations. As such, vaccinations are a complex HR matter with the potential to cause disagreements and difficult conversations to manage in the workplace.

Regardless of your personal opinion, you need to consider both sides of the argument and set fair policies and practices in place that doesn't put you at risk of claims that discrimination, data protection or HSE laws and regulations being breached.

What Can You Do?

Vaccine vials

The human resources department of any organisation is responsible for a variety of tasks, including developing and implementing policies. One important policy that HR must develop is a vaccination policy. This policy should state whether or not employees are required to be vaccinated and, if so, which vaccinations are required. The policy should also address what will happen if an employee refuses to be vaccinated.

There are several factors to consider when developing this policy, such as the risks posed by the disease, the likelihood of exposure, and the side effects of the vaccine. Additionally, HR must consult with legal counsel to ensure that the policy complies with all relevant laws. By taking these steps, HR can develop a comprehensive and effective vaccination policy.

Pro Vaccinations

Vaccinations can help prevent the spread of diseases, keeping both employees and customers healthy which is why some organisations opt for mandatory vaccination. This can be especially important in workplaces where there is close contact with others, such as hospitals or childcare centres.

Against Vaccinations

Some people believe that mandatory vaccination violates their right to freedom of religion or personal beliefs. They may object to certain vaccinations, such as those for influenza or HPV, on religious or moral grounds. Others may simply believe that the decision to be vaccinated should be a personal one.

When Employees Refuse Vaccinations

When employees and employers have opposing views on vaccinations, disagreements can arise. This means that when setting vaccination policies in the workplace, employers must tread a fine line between protecting the health of their employees and respecting their privacy rights.

In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of employees who refuse to get vaccinated. While some employees may have valid medical reasons for not getting vaccinated, others simply cite personal beliefs or a general distrust of vaccines. Regardless of the reason, employees who refuse to get vaccinated can pose a serious threat to the health and safety of their coworkers and you must take appropriate action as an employer.

What Can You Do?

UK employers can request proof of vaccination as a condition of employment, but this is not without controversy. While there is no legal requirement for vaccinations in the workplace, many employers choose to make them a condition of employment. Even in cases where vaccinations are not mandatory, employers may still require employees to provide proof of vaccination before starting work to help ensure that their workplace is safe for all employees.

It's best to support staff to get the vaccine without forcing them to.

You can support your team by:

  • educating them on the benefits of the vaccines that you require
  • helping them to get vaccinated by providing paid time off for that purpose
  • not treating them differently because of their choices regarding vaccinations,
  • supporting staff with any time off needed for side effects experienced as a result of vaccinations
  • Listening to the concerns and being sensitive to the personal situation of anyone who doesn’t want vaccinations

Possible Outcomes

Two women having a discussion in the workplace

There is an argument that asking employees to disclose whether or not they have been vaccinated could violate their data privacy rights. After all, vaccinations are personal medical information, and employees may not want their boss to know whether or not they have been vaccinated.

If Employees have a genuine objection to vaccinations, they may feel that they are being forced to choose between their beliefs and their job. In the UK, an employee who is dismissed for refusing to be vaccinated could potentially bring an unfair dismissal claim against their employer.

If you can show there is a legitimate business reason for the requirement for your employees to be vaccinated, such as protecting other staff from illness, and that you have acted reasonably, claims against you are unlikely to be successful.

Summary

  • It is important to carefully consider whether requiring vaccinations is necessary and proportionate before making it a condition of employment.
  • You should take legal advice before implementing a vaccination policy
  • Ensure your management team are aware of your vaccination policy and the correct procedures to follow when managing discussion on this topic
  • Carefully crafting a vaccination policy that strikes the right balance between creating a safe workplace for all and respecting individual beliefs and choices can be difficult, but it is essential if you want to protect both the health of your workforce and the data privacy of your employees.
  • We recommend training your management team to understand your organisation's approach to vaccination in the workplace, and talking to your teams about vaccinations. This can help you to agree to a vaccine policy that's appropriate for both staff and the organisation, support staff to protect their health, keep good working relationships, and avoid disputes in the future
  • If making vaccinations a condition of employment, you must be able to show that there is a legitimate business reason for doing so and you are advised to have a clear vaccination policy setting out your stance and reasons for the approach that you will take if employees fail to comply.

Next Steps

Whether you have an in-house HR team that needs support, or you fully outsource your human resources needs, you can talk to Neathouse  Partners for help. Our expert team will ensure that you have the knowledge and policies that you need in place to talk to your staff and protect you against the risk of grievances, dismissal, discrimination or privacy claims being brought against you when dealing with contentious topics like vaccinations in the workplace.

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