Bosses may be able to require new staff members to have coronavirus vaccines, according to a government minister.
Justice secretary Robert Buckland said it is unlikely that employees could legally require to receive a jab under existing agreements, but suggested it could be tested in court.
Speaking to ITV’s Peston on Wednesday, he said: “I think it would depend very much on the terms of employment and the particular contract.
“Generally speaking I’d be surprised if there were contracts of employment existing now that did make that approach lawful. I think frankly the issue would have to be tested.
“I can see that in particular work environments the desirability of having a vaccine is going to be higher than in others.”
Downing Street has previously said it would be “discriminatory” to force someone to have a coronavirus vaccine in order to keep their job.
But some companies have said they will not hire new staff who refuse to be vaccinated on non-medical grounds and demand staff have the jab or risk the sack.
Last month, one of the UK’s largest care home groups, Barchester Healthcare, said that it will not hire new staff who have refused the jab because of the vulnerability of its residents.
Charlie Mullins, founder of Pimlico Plumbers, has also said his company will not be taking on anybody who has not been vaccinated.
“In saying that it is up to businesses to decide, the government is abrogating its responsibility when it should be leading,” he said.
On Wednesday, Mullins told Channel 4 News lawyers were “very happy” with his approach and said it was legal under health and safety laws.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has said employers requiring workers to have Covid jabs would be the “wrong thing to do”.
Speaking last week, he said: “To start mandating and being discriminatory because you end up having people lose their jobs, currently they are a little bit hesitant about having the vaccine, would be the wrong thing to do.”
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has said it is not in favour of compulsory vaccinations for employees, while Unison has also urged action to be taken against any care home employers who refuse to employ staff who are hesitant about having the jab.
In a letter to the government, the union said people should be “encouraged, not intimidated” into getting a jab and urged the care minister to “send a strong message to employers that putting pressure on staff to take the vaccine as a condition of their work is totally unacceptable”.
Labour has called on the government to provide “clear guidance” around workers’ rights if they refuse to have a Covid jab.
Andy McDonald, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, said: “‘No jab, no job’ requirements could leave workers exposed to unlawful discrimination and employers exposed to legal action.
“The government cannot leave it to businesses to decide and must give clear guidance and provide leadership.”
The PM’s official spokesperson has said: “Taking a vaccine is not mandatory and it would be discriminatory to force somebody to take one.”