The COVID-19 vaccine is currently a hot topic of discussion, especially in Gibraltar where nearly 60,000 vaccine doses have been administered, resulting in approximately 85.5% of the population being fully vaccinated. The UK are also rapidly rolling out their vaccine programme, with two million vaccinations taking place every week at more than 2,700 sites across the UK. So far, more than 29 million people in the UK have received the first dose of the vaccine, and more than 3 million have already received their second dose.
Whilst the rollout of the vaccination programme has been largely welcomed, there are some individuals who do not want to receive it, and the question that is being asked by many is; can my employer insist on their staff receiving the COVID-19 vaccine?
Naturally, most employers will be encouraging their staff to receive the vaccine as a way of promoting health and safety in the workplace.
The potential benefits to employers that the vaccine may bring is that it should;
- help prevent the spread of COVID-19 within the workplace;
- keep the workforce healthy by preventing staff from getting COVID-19;
- reduce the number of employee absences due to illness or self-isolation; and
- allow staff to resume international travel for business purposes.
At the same time, most employees will likely want to receive the vaccine for these same reasons, and as a result, the majority of staff are keen to be immunised.
No Jab, No Job?
But what about those who don’t want to receive the vaccine? There will be workers who are concerned about it and would prefer not to have it for various reasons. Some may not want it due to being fearful of the potential long term unknown side effects, some may not be able to have it due to medical or religious reasons, and some fear that Bill Gates is using the vaccine to microchip and monitor the world.
There is a lot of debate in the media at the moment on whether employers can require their staff to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Currently, there are no statutory provisions in Gibraltar or within the UK that could force individuals to be vaccinated. If an employer were to try and force staff to receive the vaccine, it could give rise to human rights concerns as well as criminal implications. Furthermore, dismissing an employee for not receiving the vaccine could bring potential legal implications, including claims of unfair dismissal or discrimination, particularly if their refusal to receive the vaccine is due to a protected characteristic such as religion, disability or pregnancy.
Making the COVID-19 vaccination a mandatory requirement for all staff is a grey area that may be difficult to enforce and can bring with it a range of legal implications. An employer who is keen to achieve a fully vaccinated workforce should therefore take a more gentle approach, and should try to build vaccine confidence in the workplace through leading by example and sensitively engaging with staff about the safety and benefits of the vaccine. If an employee voices concerns about receiving the vaccine, undertaking individual discussions with HR or their Line Manager may help to alleviate any fears or concerns that they may have.
Employers should not be forcing their staff to be vaccinated, but by taking an open and honest two-way approach, they will be more likely to achieve a fully vaccinated and happy workforce.