Can employers insist on Covid-19 vaccinations

As the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine receives approval from the UK medicines regulator, to what degree can employers insist that staff are vaccinated before returning to the workplace? Personnel Today asked Leo Martin to contribute to the ethical arguments.

The dilemma

Many organisations will be keen to encourage employees to get a vaccine if it is offered to them. However, the government has been clear that vaccination will not be a legal requirement when it becomes widely available.

But, while having a high proportion of vaccinated staff would be advantageous for employers, it is also clear that not every worker will want to be vaccinated.

Employers’ responsibility

Leo argues that employers have a responsibility to protect the health and wellbeing of their staff. To this end, they should ensure they are informed about the pros and cons of vaccinations. The vaccine will only successfully stop the spread of the virus with the widest possible take-up. There is an ethical duty, therefore, to ensure that accurate information about the vaccine and its benefits are clearly communicated. This is key to encouraging maximum participation. It may also be advisable to counter any disinformation about the vaccine, as this can promote misplaced fear and impede the vaccine’s success.

Employers should also develop a policy on on how this will be managed. This should be done in agreement with their employees, but await further guidance from the government before firming-up any plans. Due to the nature of some roles, vaccination may be necessary, albeit not required under national law. Should Covid-19 vaccination certificates be required to enter specific countries, business travellers may find that it does, in fact, become a de facto legal requirement.

The roll-out will take time, so employers will still have a duty to ensure employee health and well-being is maintained during this period. This will include continuing to follow government guidance around hand-washing, social distancing, the use of face masks and remote working.

These rules are likely to be very important as we move into a world where all employers will face a mixed employee population, those vaccinated and those not yet vaccinated. This will be a stressful time for many. It will therefore be important to monitor the mental health and wellbeing of staff and provide support where needed.

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