Managing Covid-19 vaccination take-up in the workplace

While the UK’s Covid vaccination programme surges forward at an impressive pace, questions are being raised about how this will be managed in the workplace. While some employers are planning to adopt a ‘no jab, no job’ approach, others are taking a more collaborative line, stating they will proactively encourage staff to have the vaccine as and when it is offered.

To date there is no sign that the vaccine will be made mandatory either in the UK or anywhere else. Yet for workplaces to return to ‘normal’ and consumers to access retail, leisure, hospitality and travel with confidence, assurances will be needed that all efforts have been made to mitigate transmission of the virus. Consequently, employment lawyers are being inundated with requests for advice as to what can and cannot be mandated.

However, this is as much an ethical question as it is a legal one.

The moral dilemma

On the one hand, employers have both a legal and ethical duty to provide a safe and suitable working environment. So, to protect staff from the risk of Covid-19 transmission, maximum take up of the vaccine is required to fulfil this obligation.

However, individual employees also have the right to choose whether or not to have the vaccine. It is also the case, that employees are not required to disclose medical conditions to their employer. Consequently, there is currently no obligation for staff to inform their employer of their Covid-19 vaccination status.

Collective responsibility

As with any vaccine, the coronavirus vaccination will only successfully stop the spread of the virus with the widest possible take-up. With some studies showing alarmingly high levels of vaccine hesitancy, what approach can employers take to win over hearts and minds?

Good communication will be critical, demonstrating the organisation’s commitment to providing a safe working environment and how this can best be achieved as the vaccine is rolled out across the population. Information must be clear and accurate using a variety of methods to ensure the widest possible access.

This could include: –

  • publishing the company’s approach to the vaccination on the website;
  • using the intranet or internal communication channels to convey the company’s recommendation for the vaccination among staff;
  • leading by example with senior staff encouraged to update staff on their own vaccination status (?);
  • running team meetings and briefings to provide opportunities for questions to be raised;
  • newsletters and team briefings with accurate information on the vaccination to dispel any myths that may be circulating in specific locations or communities; and
  • hosting Q & A sessions with medical professionals to help counter any disinformation and provide medically backed answers.

Trust and privacy

Many organisations may have staff who exercise their right not to have the vaccine, whether it be for medical, religious or philosophical reasons.

While employers cannot currently ask staff to disclose a medical condition, the Information Commissioner’s Office has stated that employers can ask staff if they have coronavirus symptoms. It is possible, therefore that they may also be able to ask staff if they have had the vaccine.

Whatever is permitted, organisations should encourage staff to feel able to declare their vaccination status in confidence, outlining how this information will be treated and the provisions that may need to be put in place to ensure a safe working environment for all staff.


While many employers may see the vaccination as a golden ticket to a pre-pandemic work environment, the roll-out will take time and most organisations will have to manage a workforce comprising both vaccinated and non-vaccinated staff. During this period, mitigation measures such as wearing facemasks, social distancing, hand sanitisation and remote working will remain in place.

However, the nature of some operations will determine how sustainable that is over the long-term. For some occupations, re-deployment may need to be considered if non-vaccinated staff pose a risk to customers or clients as well as fellow employees, so organisations may need to be flexible on managing their workforce.

This is likely to be a stressful period and employers should be mindful of the potential impact of this transition on employees’ mental health. This should be carefully monitored, and provisions made to provide support where needed.

It is too early to predict ultimate take-up levels of the vaccine or to be sure of its effectiveness in supressing transition. What is clear however, is that from both a reputational perspective, good businesses will want to make it clear what steps they are taking to protect staff, customers, consumers and suppliers. Managing this well through good communication and building trust will be the ticket to safe post-pandemic workplace.

Post author Debbie Ramsay debates the ethics of the Covid vaccination roll out in the latest Thomson Reuters Legal Podcast, The Hearing.

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