The government set the target of vaccinating 15 million people by mid-February and this target was achieved in less than 10 weeks. The government are continuing to drive forward the vaccinations, as well as planning for schools to re-open from 8 March 2021.
Whilst the news of vaccinations brings positivity, the risk of COVID-19 remains, along with the continued need to follow government and DfE guidance, in order to protect employees and pupils.
Individuals have the right to decide whether they wish to be vaccinated or not. Therefore there will be in all likelihood, employees who opt to not be vaccinated.
The decision to not be vaccinated will undoubtedly raise questions for you as employers:
How will not being vaccinated impact on their role in school?
Is there an increased risk if they are not vaccinated?
Can the organisation require employees to have a vaccination?
As an employer, you can encourage employees to have the vaccination and to provide them with factual information, including links to the Government and NHS websites, to help them to make a decision about vaccination. If an employee does not wish to be vaccinated, then you should listen to their concerns but you cannot compel them to be vaccinated. As employers you are obliged under Health and Safety legislation to take reasonable steps to ensure a safe working environment, therefore encouraging employees is a reasonable step to take.
Below are some examples of the ways in which you can encourage your employees to have the vaccination:
inform employees of your support for the Government's vaccination plan and why
advise that vaccines support a return to normality
inform employees that the Oxford University and AstraZeneca vaccines have undergone robust clinical trials and have met the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency's strict standards of safety, effectiveness and quality
offer consistent, accessible and factual safety information regarding the vaccines
provide employees with paid time off for a vaccination appointment
Despite all these reasonable steps, employees may still choose not to be vaccinated. and so the question may be raised as to whether you can legitimately require an employee to have the vaccination.
There is no statutory provision that could require an individual to be vaccinated and this would create a high risk for employers of potential employment claims for discrimination and a breach of human rights.
If an employee chooses not to be vaccinated, it is important to maintain good communication and to complete an individual risk assessment, to assess and mitigate risk through control measures in the workplace, such as observing social distancing guidelines and the use of PPE.
Therefore it is advisable to encourage employees to be vaccinated, to assess the level of risk and where employees choose not to be vaccinated or are unable to have the vaccine, and this impacts on their ability to provide effective service due to the risk of COVID-19, we advise you to seek specific advice about these cases.