Can employers require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19?

Given the seemingly unending wave of disruption COVID-19 has caused to businesses all around the globe, the news of a successful vaccine being developed will be welcomed by many employers. In anticipation of the vaccine, which could be rolled out in the UK before the end of the year, questions are being asked of the rights employers could have to enforce mandatory vaccinations for employees and the basis upon which employees would be able to object.

Under current UK legislation, the government cannot compel members of the public to undergo vaccination. An individual’s consent must be obtained before the issuance of any vaccine. Any attempt by the government to legislate against this will be very difficult due to the likelihood of infringing on civil and human rights. Therefore, any legislation regarding the vaccine will respect the general prohibition on compulsory vaccinations. However, if a vaccine were to be introduced, we could see the government using employers to encourage employees to take it.

But to what extent can employers compel their employees to take a vaccine? Like the government, employers have no statutory right to compel their employees to get vaccinated. While employers may consider simply making compulsory vaccination just another contract clause, because of religious and personal views employees may have against vaccinations, such a clause could open employers up to discrimination claims or claims for unfair dismissal.  Even if an employer were simply to insist that, for the safety of others, employees who were not vaccinated could not attend the office, certain events or other spaces, this would still carry a risk of indirect discrimination claims or even constructive dismissal, should it be the reason an employee decided to leave.

Instead, it is likely that many employers will take an approach similar to the flu vaccine. Employers could therefore provide information about the availability of the vaccine, encourage employees to take it and, only with employee consent, make arrangements for the vaccine to be provided through healthcare providers.

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Victoria Middleditch

About Victoria Middleditch

Victoria is an employment lawyer in Dentons' London office. She provides support to businesses on the full range of employment law and human resources issues. Her experience includes advising on commercial transactions and re-organizations (including complex TUPE matters), employment disputes (both tribunal and civil court litigation), team moves, employment contracts and policies, bonus and commission schemes, and general day-to-day human resources issues.

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