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Can staff be forced to have a COVID-19 vaccination?

Pimlico Plumbers is in the news following an announcement that it will refuse to offer opportunities to workers who are required to visit customer premises unless they can show they have been vaccinated. Employers in many businesses will be considering their own response to employee concerns about vaccination, and we consider below some of the issues that arise.

Can an employer impose a condition of vaccination for continued employment or access to work, what challenge can it expect?

If staff come into contact with members of the public, clients or colleagues in the course of their duties, then an unreasonable refusal may be characterised as an issue of conduct or capability and in some cases may result in the end to the contract of employment for “some other substantial reason for dismissal”.

As with every dismissal, a fair process must be followed and part of that will involve considering the employee’s reasons for refusal and whether there are alternatives to dismissal. Providing employees with access to good sources of advice about vaccine risk and benefit are likely to be part of this process.

Given that tribunals should not substitute their own judgment for that of the employer, then, provided the employer has carried out a careful weighing up of the concerns of the employee against the needs of the business, its customers and employees, it may be possible for the employer to successfully defend a dismissal or refusal to provide work in these circumstances.

Relevant factors include the needs of those with whom the individual can be expected to come into contact. For example, refusal of vaccine by employees working with those who are medically vulnerable is likely to cause significant concern to an employer, given that in any population there will always be those who, for medical or allergy reasons, are unable to have the vaccine and must therefore rely on measures taken by other people.

If you need legal advice regarding an employment matter, then contact SHU Law on 0114 2256666 or email us at enquiries@shulaw.co.uk

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