With news reports recently confirming the forthcoming availability of the Covid-19 vaccines, lawyers have advised that the UK Government has no legal power to compel vaccinations and similarly employers in the UK have no statutory right to insist an employee be vaccinated for health and safety reasons.
The news of the future availability of coronavirus vaccines, as at the end of November 2020, has been welcomed by the scientific community across the globe.
For employers, the news may prompt consideration of the potential implications of vaccinations for the workforce.
A source at the UK law firm Morgan Lewis said, “While there is much uncertainty surrounding the vaccines themselves and how they may be administered to the public at large, the UK Government is not currently proposing any mandatory vaccination programme. It is unlikely that employers in the UK will be able to mandate any such programme among their workforce any time soon.”
The law firm said that in theory, it may be possible for employers to implement measures such as not allowing employees to return to the office, or to take part in certain events, if they have not had the vaccine.
But the lawyers added, “While this would not technically constitute compelling employees to have a vaccination, in practice it is likely to have the same effect. Such a measure, however, is unlikely to be unanimously welcomed and is still likely to generate legal risk.
“Employees may, for example, have various (valid) reasons for not wishing to have a vaccine, some of which might also relate to protected characteristics under equality legislation. Excluding employees in such circumstances might lead to claims of unfair treatment, such as of discrimination or (were an employee to resign in protest) of constructive unfair dismissal. Employers should be mindful of these risks and of appearing heavy-handed.”
However, in certain circumstances, some UK employers may have a duty to offer a Covid-19 vaccine for health and safety reasons under the Health and Safety at Work Act, etc 1974, eg where staff are considered to be at increased risk of the coronavirus.