HR Expert: COVID Vaccine HR Considerations
With tougher restrictions being implemented every day in UK, a client wants to know, from a HR standpoint, whether they can make their staff take either of the two recently approved coronavirus vaccines so that things can go back to normal. If not, how can they handle this? 

It is easy to see why your client would want restrictions to end and for the world to return to what we know as ‘normal’. However, your client should tread carefully with making/forcing their staff to take a /coronavirus vaccine as not everyone can or will want to take it.

Your client will need to consider how requiring the vaccine to be taken will affect those who cannot have it because of:

  • medical reasons – some people may be allergic to some elements in the vaccine and have therefore been advised by the Government not to take the vaccine
  • ethnic and/or religious reasons – the Royal Society for Public Health in study has found that 57% of people of African and Asian descent would take the vaccine, compared to 79% of white people, or
  • philosophical beliefs – e.g. ethical vegans may object if any part of the vaccine, or the elements that comprises its creation, has used animals in a way that doesn’t accord with their beliefs.

Your client can check existing contracts of employment to ascertain their position on this issue as they may be able to ask their staff to take the vaccine before returning to work. The likelihood of this, however, is low. It is not likely that contracts will contain anything which enables employers to require this vaccine to be taken so the approach to this will be dependent on several factors – from the industry your client operates within to the nature of their employees’ roles. For example, healthcare workers may have provisions in their contracts which stipulate that they must take vaccinations or do all that is practicable to safeguard their health so they are able to carry out their duties without hinderance.

Further, your client should not implement disciplinary procedures if their employees refuse to take the vaccine as this may run them the risk of facing claims of discrimination or unfair dismissal (including constructive unfair dismissal). Instead, they should think about sharing information to their staff from official sources regarding the vaccine to reduce the likelihood of them making a decision based on false information.

It is also important to note that some restrictions may remain in place even after the vaccine has been distributed to the vast majority of people, especially social distancing and some COVID-secure measures.

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