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  • Karen Bulfin

No jab, no job?

With the coronavirus vaccination programme well underway in the UK, many employers are considering what vaccination might mean for their business. Some companies are announcing that they will dismiss or refuse to recruit employees who aren’t vaccinated. With 23 per cent of employers telling an HRLocker survey that they plan to make vaccination compulsory, everyone wants to know whether a ‘no jab, no job’ policy is legal.

It’s easy to see why employers want their workforces vaccinated. A fully vaccinated workforce will (hopefully) mean a substantial reduction in both the incidence of the virus in the workplace and the risk that the virus poses to both staff and customers/clients. But a blanket rule might get you into trouble. If a vaccine contains animal-derived products, then a vegan or a Muslim employee might refuse the jab and bring an indirect discrimination claim if they are dismissed as a result. The policy is applied to everyone but can put people with ethical or religious views at a disadvantage. Although such a policy could theoretically be justified – as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim – it would be tricky here. Employers might need to make an exception for such employees.

Aside from discrimination, a ‘no jab, no job’ policy will be difficult for most employers to justify. There are many reasons for this. The vaccine is not compulsory, so an employment tribunal is unlikely to welcome an employer trying to make it obligatory via the back door. The risk of adverse effects from the jab, however small, cannot be completely removed or ruled out – it might be tricky to justify a dismissal for refusing a vaccine which might pose a health threat. Many people are nervous about a new jab which has been developed and approved so quickly, keen to wait and see whether anyone develops serious side effects in the next few months. Forcing someone to take a vaccine might also infringe on their human rights.

However, whilst for most employers, this policy won’t be justifiable, there are some workplaces where vaccination is more mission critical. The pandemic has caused devastation in our care homes and there is a shortage of NHS staff due to infection and isolation requirements. Vaccinations will protect vulnerable patients and staff from the virus, potentially reducing or removing its devastating effects. In these workplaces, the chances of defending such a dismissal are much greater. As always, a fair procedure must be followed, including exploring redeployment from the frontline for those who refuse the jab.

For most employers though, there is plenty of time to mull things over before making any dismissal decisions. Most people of working age are many months away from being offered a vaccine. For those who are currently vaccine hesitant, allowing more time for them to see that vaccination does not damage health, may mean that when their turn for the jab does come, their concerns will have been allayed.

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