December saw the highly anticipated rollout of the Pfizer vaccination in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 130,000 people receiving the jab within the first week of the programme alone.
Last week, the Oxford vaccine began its rollout too and yesterday (12 January), the government announced its vaccine delivery plan, which will see two million vaccinations take place every week at more than 2,700 sites across the UK.
Among the first to receive the vaccinations were care home workers and high risk healthcare workers. However, over the coming months, tens of millions of people will be immunised due to the rapid scale up of the vaccination programme, leaving UK-based workers wondering whether they have to have the jab and whether their employer can force them to be immunised.
Laura Kearsley, partner and solicitor specialising in employment law at Nelsons, said: “Some employers will be very keen for their staff to benefit from a Covid-19 vaccine. Having a full complement of vaccinated employees will mean a dramatic reduction in the risk of the virus and less concern for the employer when it comes to transmission in the workplace. That being said, it might not necessarily be as simple they think.”
Can my employer make me get a Covid-19 vaccine?
“An employer cannot compel you to be vaccinated if you do not wish to be so. 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.
“We’d advise our clients to encourage their employees to get vaccinated by ensuring staff have access to reliable information about the vaccine, so they’re able to make an informed choice, and even to allow paid time off for vaccination appointments.”
Do I need to let my employer know if I am getting a vaccine?
“Unless your employer has a policy requiring you to notify them of vaccinations or procedures, then no. Although, if you need time off to attend appointments for vaccinations, you should arrange this in the normal way according to your company’s code of practice.”
Can my employer alter my contract in any way meaning I have to get a vaccine?
“It is unlikely that an employer could reasonably amend an employment contract to make it a requirement that an employee be vaccinated. However, as previously mentioned, there are some sectors and job roles where employers might be able to argue that the person in that post needs to be vaccinated for health and safety reasons.”
What are my rights as an employee to refuse if my employer is insisting I get a vaccine?
“If your employer is insisting you get the vaccine but you are unsure, then you should flag and discuss any concerns with your employer and see what can be agreed. Unless you are employed in a sector and/or a job role where there are pressing health and safety reasons for you to have the vaccine, an employer is not likely to be able to insist you get it or be able to take action against you for not doing so.
“However, it’s always worth bearing in mind that employees who have less than two years’ service do not have the right to claim unfair dismissal – except in certain limited cases – and that those who provide their services on a self-employed or zero hours basis might also be less protected from their employer’s decisions.”
I am looking for work, will I have to tell prospective employers whether or not I have been vaccinated?
“There is a general prohibition on employers asking prospective employees health-related questions, which in this case would include their vaccination records. Although, there are limited exceptions to this that could apply to sectors and job roles where there is a particular health and safety reason, meaning the employer needs to know whether you’ve been vaccinated or not.”