Vaccinations In The Workplace: The Rules And Rights You Need To Know

Companies are putting vaccine stipulations in job adverts, but are they legal?

The rules around work have changed numerous times over the past year.

Now, with more than 44 million people vaccinated against coronavirus, people are starting to come back to in-person work, which we’ll see more of as furlough ends this week.

But will your vaccination status have an impact? Research shows it could.

The number of job postings requiring workers to be vaccinated soared by 116% between August and September, according to data released by Indeed Flex, the online marketplace for flexible workers.

The care homes sector, which from November will be legally required to ensure all staff and volunteers are fully vaccinated against Covid, is among the industries posting the most jobs requiring jabs.

Other roles highly likely to require vaccination are to be found in customer service, cleaning and hospitality. Meanwhile, a survey of more than 400 HR directors found seven in 10 (70%) say they will require staff to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Nearly half (48%) said they would require all staff, except those with a medical exemption, to be vaccinated, while 22% would implement mandatory jabs for all workers.

The findings suggest vaccination has become a high priority for those in charge of recruitment and a prerequisite for an increasing number of jobs.

Showing vaccine status might become more commonplace for workplaces.
Marko Geber via Getty Images
Showing vaccine status might become more commonplace for workplaces.

In the survey, seven in 10 (73%) said a worker’s vaccination status would have an impact on their return to the workplace, with a third of those polled (33%) saying only vaccinated staff would go back.

Only 15% of HR directors said vaccination status would have no bearing on their decision to return a staff member to the workplace or not.

But what are the official rules around vaccinations in the workplace, and how can you talk to your employer about their policies?

Who decides a company’s vaccination policy?

Outside the care sector, businesses in the UK are currently free to decide whether or not to impose a vaccination requirement on their staff.

Other countries, including France, Greece and Australia, have also implemented mandatory vaccination in the care sector.

Meanwhile, in the US, new rules require most federal employees to be vaccinated, with similar orders in place in Canada and Greece.

The US also obliges companies with more than 100 employees to require staff to be vaccinated or face mandatory testing.

Can an existing employer tell staff to get vaccinated?

According to law firm Nelson Law, an employer cannot compel you to be vaccinated if you don’t want to be. However, it may be within their rights – depending on the circumstances – to take action if you are not going to be vaccinated and they think there are good reasons why you should be.

For example, this would particularly apply to those working in healthcare or care home settings. In some circumstances, employees could in fact be dismissed for refusing the vaccination if it means they will present a threat to themselves, patients or service users.

Can employers choose new employees based on vaccination status?

Greg Burgess, partner and employment law specialist at city law firm DMH Stallard, tells Huffpost employers can ask new recruits whether they have had both doses of a vaccine.

“If the individual either has not had both doses or refuses to disclose this information, the employer needs to find out why,” he explains.

“If the reason for them refusing to have both doses is linked to a protected characteristic (sex, religious belief, disability, age etc), then if you refuse to appoint them for this reason this could give rise to an indirect discrimination claim.

“Take for example an expectant mother who is worried that it is too early to be 100% sure whether the vaccine may cause harm to her or her child and therefore she has not yet had either vaccination. If an employer imposes a blanket rule that all new staff must be double vaccinated and then refuses to employ her, she might bring a discrimination claim.

“To defend that claim, the employer will need to show why it was necessary to have such a policy and that there was no other way of properly protecting their workforce. This can require complex legal analysis by employment tribunals and we fully expect cases to come through over the coming months answering these questions.”

What are your rights if you don’t agree with your company’s policy?

The Equality Act 2010 lists “protected characteristics” – such as race, sex, pregnancy, disability, religion and sexual orientation – which protect employees from direct and indirect discrimination. For example, employers must ensure that they do not make discriminatory decisions when selecting workers for furloughing and they must continue to provide reasonable adjustments to disabled workers working from home or being redeployed.

An employee or worker can raise a problem by talking with their:

  • employer

  • trade union representative, if they’re a member of a trade union

  • health and safety representative, if they have one

  • employee representatives

If it cannot be resolved informally:

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has also produced guidance for employers in the light of Covid-19.