Although the headline may grab your attention, the news that Google, Netflix and other global employers are demanding employees are vaccinated before returning to the workplace, they are allowing alternative arrangements to continue, at least for now.In the UK, an employer has a duty to provide a safe place of work to its staff and visitors. Whilst COVID-19 has forced non-essential workplaces to be closed, those which remained open, and have now reopened, are required to follow government guidelines for providing a safe workplace alongside long-standing health and safety legislation as a minimum. Requiring employees to be vaccinated may be a reasonable and proportionate step towards meeting this duty, but this must be balanced by the company with the individual rights of employees, including the collection of private health data and protection from discrimination and unfair treatment. Employees who have medical or religious grounds for not being vaccinated, for example, must not suffer a detriment and limited exemptions must be considered before such a policy is introduced and practically enforced. It is worth noting that Google, and others, are not requiring employees to attend the workplace to carry out their duties and are able to continue to work from home or elsewhere. If the requirement to be vaccinated prevents an employee from doing their work and earning a living, such as working in a shop or factory, flexibility or a greater justification for the policy may be required. Whilst this is the case in the UK, multinational companies will need to look at the laws of each country in which they operate.The Government has already mandated vaccines for those working in care homes and this may soon extend to the NHS following consultation, but outside of this sector it is down to each employer to determine what is appropriate. Balancing a new policy with sufficient flexibility to allow it to work whilst still meet its purpose is a challenge. In these heightened times during a pandemic, even more so. For further information about vacccine policies in the workplace and protecting the health and safety of employees, please contact me at Kevin.Poulter@freeths.co.uk
Meanwhile, experts warned of a legal minefield in the UK, with employment tribunals being asked to arbitrate in the absence of clarity from the government. Kevin Poulter, of Freeths solicitors, said vaccination demands from employers could be considered reasonable as a way of meeting their legal duty to ensure workplaces were safe. But he added it must be balanced with the rights of employees, ‘including the collection of private health data and protection from discrimination’.