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Legal Update: COVID-19 vaccinations – can and should employers insist on them? 

person holding white and black labeled bottle

Bela Gor, Business Disability Forum

Can employers insist that workers are vaccinated against COVID-19?

This is a question that many HR and Diversity and Inclusion Professionals are grappling with at the moment as the UK rolls out a programme that aims to offer a vaccination to every adult in the next few months and certainly by the end of the year.  

The question is not an easy one to answer.

The law is uncertain and won’t be clear until someone goes to court for a ruling on issues such as whether an anti-vaccination stand is a protected belief under the Equality Act 2010. The uncertainties aren’t all legal either. These vaccinations have been developed (necessarily) at speed and although there are assurances that they are safe, the vaccinations have not been tried and tested on large groups of people over many years. Some side-effects and long-term effects cannot be known yet and this makes some people pause before agreeing to be vaccinated. 

Some of the most frequently asked questions about the COVID-19 vaccinations and employment are set out here in our COVID-19 Toolkit and I’ve even tried to answer some of them. The answer to the question posed at the start, however, is that it doesn’t matter whether an employer can or cannot insist on workers being vaccinated. Employers should not insist that their workers are vaccinated. Quite simply it’s a bad idea to do so. There may well be legal risks if you insist workers are vaccinated but perhaps even more importantly, you might damage good work done on employee engagement and trust in you as an employer. 

A much better approach is to provide accurate information to your workforce about the vaccinations to counter the misinformation that is widely available on the internet. Then, be open and willing to talk to colleagues about their concerns and their reasons for being hesitant or not wanting to be vaccinated. These will often be valid and entirely reasonable reasons such as fear of how the vaccination will affect a pre-existing medical condition or disability, their religion or belief system or because they are pregnant.  

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