Covid-19 Vaccinations: Can You Mandate Employee Acceptance and Disclosure?

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It’s fair to say that the future looks brighter now than at any point over the past 18 months.

Now that the lockdown restrictions have been lifted – leading to a sense of permanence; it means the UK economy is on track to grow at its fastest rate in over 70 years.

Meanwhile, the national Covid-19 vaccination programme has been gathering pace every day.  More than 44.5 million people have received at least one dose, as the government works to achieve its aim of offering vaccines to all adults by mid-August.

However, even in the face of such positivity, caution remains as employees gradually return to their workplaces.  After such an intense and prolonged period of working from home, it will take time for everybody to adjust to the ‘new normal’ of work. 

Understandably, health and safety is a key consideration for companies re-opening their office doors.  Many employers have implemented thorough systems for hygiene and cleaning, to help reassure their staff and customers.

With this in mind, could organisations be forgiven for wanting to know which members of their staff have received a Covid vaccination, or even insisting that they do not return to the workplace until they are fully vaccinated?

The global investment bank Goldman Sachs hit the headlines in June, when an internal memo was circulated to its US employees.  The memo asked each employee to inform the bank of their vaccination status, ahead of its plan to bring them all back to their desks.

Although this move has caused controversy, it isn’t illegal to ask workers about their vaccination status in the US, as long as the information they provide is kept confidential.

Can UK employers ask staff to disclose their vaccination status?

Again, in the UK employees can legally be asked if they have been vaccinated, although there must be a clear reason for the request.  Concerns about the health and safety of others is classed as a valid reason, though it could be difficult to justify if your employees have limited contact with other people.

Staff must also be provided with clear information about how and why their vaccination data is being processed.

The CIPD recommends drafting a clear vaccination policy, to help “outline the organisation’s stance on vaccination and explain the role of and expectations on managers, HR, and employees.”

Can UK employers make Covid-19 vaccination a mandatory requirement?

In another controversial move, Pimlico (formerly Pimlico Plumbers) announced its plans to introduce a policy they described as “no jab, no job”, which requires all of its workers to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

Following an extensive period of consultation, the UK government has also recently confirmed that people working in CQC-registered care homes must be fully vaccinated with both doses.

If your organisation is thinking about following suit, be aware that employees with protected characteristics (such as age, pregnancy, or religious belief) could be placed at a disadvantage. This could expose you to an increased risk of high-profile and expensive discrimination claims.

Prioritise communication and encouragement

Rather than making vaccine acceptance and disclosure mandatory requirements, it may be more effective for organisations to work on establishing an open and non-judgmental culture of encouragement.

This could involve organising a company-wide awareness campaign that draws upon fact-based information about the benefits of vaccination, as well as answering employees’ questions and concerns (confidentially when required.)

You should ensure that any policy you implement around vaccination is clear, appropriately communicated to staff, and that line managers are properly briefed to discuss any issues that arise within their teams.

Ultimately, as the CIPD points out in its vaccination guide for employers, organisations are “far more likely to achieve a fully vaccinated workforce if they use open and honest two-way communication and listen to any concerns that individuals may have.”

For advice on creating a bespoke vaccination policy for your organisation, please get in touch

You can also download our comprehensive guide to developing a hybrid working strategy, which we have personally designed to help you and your employees further adapt to our vastly altered future of work.

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