No Jab, No Job – Health and Safety vs Civil Liberties

No jab, no job – easy to say but a minefield to navigate. As the NHS programme rolls impressively on, thoughts turn to how useful vaccine protection might be.

There are some cases of compulsory vaccination for medical professionals & vaccinations for international travel. But the wide ranging application of the COVID-19 vaccinations and their capacity to impact society as a whole is quite different and employers are now looking closely at the vaccines’ benefits.

Can you require employees to accept the vaccine?

In short, no. As individuals, we decide what happens to our bodies and have the absolute right to refuse vaccination. Our employer’s view cannot change that. Forced vaccination would be a criminal offence.

What does health and safety law say?

The starting point will be your risk assessment, which identifies the coronavirus risk profile of your organisation. Considerations for a business sending employees into people’s homes may be quite different to those of an office-based business where working from home has become commonplace.

Consider carefully the general duties of an employer – to employees and third parties – which require the actions taken to be reasonably practicable. This doesn’t mean doing everything physically possible; the meaning is narrower. Just because it is possible to vaccinate, the law does not require it.

This is an unusual and potentially uncomfortable position; it is not typically up to industry to champion medical treatment. But whilst this opens up a legal and ethical can of worms, given the scale of the crisis we continue to face it seems likely a court would consider this educational messaging to be a reasonably practicable measure employers can and should be taking.

What steps should employers take?

· prepare and disseminate a vaccine policy, which sets out the organisation’s position and provides information about the approach being taken 

· think about the form and content of vaccine messaging; there is plenty of guidance available 

· identify trusted individuals with whom hesitant employees can raise concerns 

· review COVID-19 risk assessments to include the impact of the vaccines 

· reinforce existing control measures, including working from home, workplace bubbles, social distancing and hand-washing, which remain essential even when

· consider how to collect and maintain details of who has been vaccinated bearing in mind data protection

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