Embrace HR Covid-19 vaccines pexels-gustavo-fring-3985170

Can you insist that your care industry employees are vaccinated? What will happen if they refuse? Read on…

As the first Covid-19 vaccines begin to roll out, we can start to see a ray of light at the end of the global pandemic tunnel. And for those of us in the care industry, with the responsibility for the safety of both staff and clients, it is a big relief.

However, just because the vaccine is being made available – and health and social care workers and care home workers are among those included in the first wave – that doesn’t mean that all of your employees will take up the offer.

Best practice

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA) says that employers must take reasonable steps to reduce workplace risks. With this in mind, it would be wise to  educate your staff about vaccination so that health and safety is front of mind and they make an informed choice regarding vaccinations.

In light of this, it is key that employers draw up a policy regarding keeping safe, with reference to vaccinations in general, if one is not already in place.

Vaccine concerns

Staff may have their own reasons for not wanting to be vaccinated – in fact according to a YouGov survey around a fifth of those surveyed said they would not be vaccinated. They may fear that it has been developed too quickly, and that there is not enough known about side effects. They may doubt its efficacy – and with the announcement that the gap between first and second doses is being extended, may be even less convinced that it will give them immunity.

They may have medical concerns. Anyone who is pregnant, breastfeeding or trying to conceive is advised to consult with medical professionals to weigh up the risks of being vaccinated [GOV.UK: The safety of COVID-19 vaccines when given in pregnancy 5/1/21], and there are also concerns for anyone who has suffered from severe allergic reactions in the past [GOV.UK Confirmation of guidance to vaccination centres on managing allergic reactions following COVID-19 vaccination with the Pfizer-BioNTech-vaccine. Withdrawn 11/1/21].

Or you may find that you have staff who refuse on religious grounds, or because of other beliefs – ethical vegans, for instance, may refuse to have a vaccine that has been tested on animals.

Legal viewpoint

You should also note that the vaccination is not mandatory, and it looks unlikely that there will be any law making it so.

As highlighted in People Management recently, [People Management: Can employers force staff to have the Covid vaccine? 15/12/20] there are indirect measures that an employer can take to pressurise vaccination of their employees such as “refusing staff entry to certain parts of the workplace or certain roles, if they cannot demonstrate that they have been vaccinated”. That said, we wouldn’t recommend it and any such measures would need to be considered very carefully as you might run the risk of being subject to claims of discrimination or constructive dismissal.

Of course, where the care of vulnerable clients is involved, as an employer you may feel that your responsibility for their health and safety means that their carers should be vaccinated. However, there are other requirements that can keep them safe – such as PPE, cleaning and hygiene regimes, regular testing and social hygiene. In any case, guidance from the NHS still states that all these measures should be taken even if one is vaccinated, as no vaccine is believed to be 100 per cent effective.

An option for staff who have not been vaccinated, for whatever reason, is to allow them to work at home, if that is indeed an option, or to be deployed elsewhere, away from ill or vulnerable people. When considering this, you will of course have to ensure that they agree, they are not financially disadvantaged, that it doesn’t impact on their career in a negative way, or that it is in breach of their contract.

If you would like to discuss this subject further, please contact Cecily Lalloo at Embrace HR Limited.

T: 01296 761288 or contact us here.

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Based in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, Embrace HR Limited provide a specialised HR service to the care sector, from recruitment through to exit.