Since the Covid-19 vaccine was announced, so was the release of the hotly debated topic of businesses making it a contractual requirement for staff. The debate follows as Lesley Watts, the Chief Executive of Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation, produced an email stating ‘We will be making the Covid-19 vaccination mandatory for all our employees and it will form part of the employment contract.’’ This email was later dismissed, but it has encouraged questions to be raised on whether or not, the mandatory roll-out of the vaccine in businesses should be considered.
The conflicting employment laws make it a difficult decision to make for employers, being faced with challenges from both sides of the debate. On one hand, employers may feel in favour of a mandatory vaccine, understanding they are lawfully bound to provide a ‘Duty of Care’ to their employees, by providing the means necessary for a safe working environment. A mandatory vaccination policy may also encourage a more eased transition back to office-based working without the attached trauma of employees feeling they are not safe or at high risk. On a conflicting stance, employees, and all adults, do have a right to refuse the vaccine on their own terms. An employer implementing the vaccine into a contractual policy could be considered as medical intervention, which in most circumstances requires consent. If an employer forced an employee to have the vaccine under a forced approach of a contractual agreement, the employee has a case for legal action, as their right to medical freedom has been imposed.
The right approach to this topic is not absolute, and there are challenges to be met by both employers and employees. A reasonable employer should respect the employee decision, regardless of the outcome. For businesses to maintain a balance between a Covid-secure workplace and a respected environment, Rachel Suff, Employment Relations Adviser at the CIPD, encourages employers to produce a policy on vaccinations to create awareness of where the company stands. She also suggests that businesses should encourage the vaccine through awareness campaigns, holding Q&A’s with medical professionals and pointing staff towards official guidance so they can make their own, informed decisions. The choice to have the Covid-19 vaccine is not certain for all employees, but the ability for employers to consider the wider wellbeing of the workforce and provide a supportive approach to any and all decisions is.
Banner Jones Solicitors, (2021) ‘My employer has asked me to have the vaccine- what are my rights?’ Available at: https://www.bannerjones.co.uk/resources/my-employer-has-asked-me-to-have-the-vaccine-what-are-my-rights (Accessed 01/07/2021).
Churchill, F. (2021) ‘Can Employers force their staff to have the Covid Vaccine?’ People Management, 25th February. Available at: https://www.peoplemanagement.co.uk/long-reads/articles/can-employers-force-staff-have-covid-vaccine (Accessed 01/07/2021)
Wise, J. (2021) ‘COVID-19: Is the UK heading towards mandatory vaccination of healthcare workers?’ BMJ, 21st April. Available at: https://www.bmj.com/content/373/bmj.n1056 (Accessed 01/07/21)