Returning to the Workplace: Can Employers Make the Vaccine Mandatory?

It has recently been reported that half of UK adults have now received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Considering the fast-paced rollout of the vaccine, many employers will be questioning what their responsibilities are and what actions they should be taking to protect their workforce.

Can employers make the vaccine mandatory for employees?

The coronavirus vaccine has not been made compulsory by law, so although employers may prefer that their staff got vaccinated, not all have a right to make vaccination mandatory in the workplace. Employers in health care sectors may however be able to instruct their staff to get the vaccine as doing so could be regarded as a ‘reasonable instruction’ to ensure staff can do their job without putting those more vulnerable at risk.

Government advice for health workers can be found here.

If an employer does not have reasonable grounds to instruct staff to get vaccinated, what can employers do instead to encourage staff to get their COVID-19 vaccine?

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and ACAS have both released helpful guides for employers and recommend that they support staff in getting the vaccine, share the benefits, and encourage staff to be vaccinated.

Employers should consider taking the following actions.

  • Communicate the government’s latest vaccine health information and the benefits of getting the vaccine to their staff. Employers should also consider putting a vaccine policy into writing that is appropriate for staff and the organisation.
  • Discuss any data protection issues with staff, including what information may be collected following vaccinations and how they will ensure the data is kept secure in line with the Data Protection Act 2018 and the UK GDPR. ICO guidance for employers on data protection and coronavirus can be found
  • Support staff with time off for vaccination appointments. Some employers may consider paying staff for time off to get their vaccine or even offering to pay staff the usual rate of pay instead of statutory sick pay if they were to be off work suffering from side effects as a result of being vaccinated.
  • Encourage staff to consider the benefits of the vaccine and the positive impact this could have on their physical health and wellbeing.
  • Listen to any concerns employees may have around getting the vaccine. There are a many different reasons an individual may have concerns around getting the vaccine or may be unable to get vaccinated for example due to health conditions. It is important staff who may not get the vaccine are not discriminated against and are treated equally in the workplace. Employers should ensure they avoid claims for indirect discrimination.

The Department for health suggests employers should not relax current coronavirus precautions in the workplace despite staff being vaccinated. Health and safety measures such as social distancing should be kept in place to help keep the virus under control and to continue protecting employees.

Additional useful resources for employers can be found below.