Any length of absence can be disruptive to employers, but there are particular extra considerations...
The roll out of the COVID-19 vaccination has happened at such a rapid rate, which, with all the will in the world, will offer us a return to some sort of normality. Overall, there has been a high uptake of the vaccine, however there is a group of individuals who are reluctant to be vaccinated. The reasons could be many and varied, including individuals who can’t have the vaccine (for example, on medical grounds), those who can have the vaccine but refuse (for example, on religious or spiritual grounds) and those who can have it but have concerns and are uncertain (for example, due to a fear of vaccinations generally). This puts many employers, especially those in the health care sector, in a difficult position. Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 employers are obliged to take reasonable steps to reduce any workplace risks. With this in mind, what steps can employers take if they have an employee refusing to be vaccinated?
Practices should do what they can to encourage their employees to be vaccinated to protect themselves and everyone else at the workplace. COVID-19 is also a reportable disease under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (known as RIDDOR) which strengthens Practices encouragement that employees should agree to vaccination. This however does not mean forcing an employee to be vaccinated.
The wisest approach for Practices is to encourage staff to be vaccinated and publicise the benefits to improve take up of the vaccine when offered through the NHS. Engagement by organisations through good communication will help employees make informed decisions regarding their vaccination. Explaining and encouraging employees with impartial, factual information will keep them informed about the workplace impact and risks of COVID-19.
If an employee voices concerns about being vaccinated, then individual discussions with a trusted staff member may help to allay fears and obtain their consent but employees should not be unduly pressurised into agreeing. Practices are far more likely to achieve a fully vaccinated workforce if they use open and honest two-way communication and listen to any concerns that individuals may have.
Options if staff refuse vaccination
If staff refuse vaccination Practices should seriously consider the employee’s reasons and any concerns they may have, and look to implement alternative solutions, while relevant. This could include continued working from home if possible, ensuring employees are maintaining social distancing and that they are wearing all appropriate PPE at all times. This will help ensure you are doing all you can as a Practice to reduce the risk of transmission in the workplace where possible. You may, where possible, consider changing the employee’s work responsibilities or role if this could enable them to work remotely or in a safer working environment. The key is to ensure that your risk assessment is up to date and you can represent that you have done all you can to ensure you are maintaining a COVID secure working environment.
There has been much discussion out there about disciplining or even dismissing employees if they refuse to have the vaccine. Being in the health care sector and the risks involved with having such close contact with the public, this can sometimes seem like the only option. Taking such steps opens Practices up to possible legal claims against them, especially as the vaccine has not been mandated in the health care sector. We would strongly urge you to contact the HR team at Avon LMC if you have concerns around an employee who is refusing to be vaccinated. Each case should be dealt on its own merits, and it is important to seek guidance in such circumstances. Please contact us on 0117 970 2755 or email@example.com