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The Covid-19 vaccine: How to manage workplace issues & concerns

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The Covid-19 vaccine take up has been a huge success. It is helping reduce serious illnesses and death in the UK. But how should you approach the issue of vaccination with your employees?

Having as many people as possible vaccinated against coronavirus is widely seen as our main route out of the pandemic. This is because people who are fully vaccinated are far less likely to get seriously ill or die from the illness.

Fortunately, take up of the Covid-19 vaccine in the UK is widely viewed as a success. Currently more than two in three adults have received both jabs. But as an employer, could the issue of vaccination throw up some tricky issues for you and your workforce?

Are Covid-19 vaccines compulsory for any jobs?

Not generally. In fact, there is only one work situation that will soon require vaccination for work. In October 2021, anyone working in an older adult care home in England that includes nursing or personal care must have both jabs. This includes agency workers, healthcare workers, tradespeople and volunteers who come to care homes. The only workers who won’t need to be jabbed are those with a genuine medical exemption. The Department of Health is currently consulting on whether to mandate all NHS staff be vaccinated as well.

Many business leaders, would prefer all staff to be double-jabbed in order to return to a physical workplace. This isn’t just for jobs where employees are responsible for the physical care of others. There have been catchy media headlines discussing the possibility of employers insisting to staff ‘No jab, no job’. Tech giants like Google and Facebook may be able to require vaccinations in the US, but here in the UK, there is no legislation allowing private businesses to mandate medical treatment for their employees. And even in Google's US vaccination policy, the plan is to include an exception for those with medical or other protected status reasons for not getting the vaccine.

It’s a complex issue. Trying to force workers to be immunised brings up huge ethical and legal concerns. As the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) advises, ‘mandatory vaccination is an intrusion on an employee’s body and may discriminate on the basis of disability, or religious or philosophical belief’.

Who can’t be vaccinated?

As an employer, you should bear in mind that your workforce may contain staff who would choose to be vaccinated but medically it's not possible for them. For example, they may be allergic to some of the vaccine ingredients. Or they may have suffered severely adverse allergic reactions to other vaccines in the past.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has their backs. They say: ‘Employers are right to want to protect their staff and their customers, particularly in contexts where people are at risk, such as care homes. However, requirements must be proportionate, non-discriminatory and make provision for those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.’

Employees who can’t be vaccinated may need extra support and help. For example, you may need to help raise awareness of their situation to people they work with.

How can you protect everyone, when some employees have not received the Covid-19 vaccine?

The government is advising that, at this stage, it’s far better for employers to encourage people who can medically have vaccinations rather than make it mandatory. As its Covid 19 vaccination: guide for employers points out, employers can play a vital role in helping to promote vaccination as part of their responsibility to help reduce workplace risk.

You have a legal duty to provide a safe work environment for all your staff. Employees who aren’t vaccinated, for whatever reason, will need extra Covid-secure measures at work. This is in order to protect them and also keep vaccinated colleagues safe.

Even with vaccines, it’s still crucial to manage the risks of Covid-19. For example, you can supply good ventilation and air purification systems. In addition, hand hygiene, social distancing and wearing masks if necessary are all measures that will reduce the risk of infection. This is on top of testing and self-isolating with symptoms. It will depend on your own workplace and type of business which measures you feel will be needed.

Protecting all employees and providing a safe workplace benefits everyone who plays a part in your business. And of course, it also benefits the UK as a whole as we exit this pandemic.

More information on the Covid-19 vaccine in the workplace

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