No jab, no job: The legalities of compulsory COVID-19 vaccines for care workers

COVID-19 vaccinations are to become mandatory for staff working in care homes for the elderly in England.

No jab

COVID-19 vaccinations are to become mandatory for staff working in care homes for the elderly in England. With the government announcing that new legislation will come into force from October, following a consultation from the department of health and social care.

Since its rollout, more than 43 million people in the UK have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccination, with slightly more than 30 million having received both doses. During the programme’s progression, there has been a lot of debate on whether it should become compulsory to have the vaccine and whether employers can require employees to take the vaccine.

According to a consultation by the Department of Health and Social Care in April this year, 47% of care homes for the elderly in England had more than a fifth of staff yet to be vaccinated ‘ in a sector where there have been more than 40,000 deaths due to Covid-19. 

Employers in the health and care sectors are keen for their staff to benefit from a Covid-19 vaccine. Having a full complement of vaccinated employees will mean a dramatic reduction in the rise of the virus and less concern for the employer when it comes to transmission to vulnerable patients, service users, and to others in the workplace. 

What comes next?

The incoming regulations state that care workers will have a 16 week grace period, from the time legislation comes in, to have both doses of the vaccine unless they are medically exempt. Those who do not could face being moved away from frontline duties, or where that isn’t possible, losing their jobs.

The worry for the care sector is the impact this might have on recruitment and staff retention, given that there is already a shortage of staff in this sector. The detail of how this is to be implemented remains to be seen but this unprecedented move could prove unpopular with care staff who do not wish to have the vaccine. 

The potential no jab, no job precedent

An employer cannot compel employees to be vaccinated if they do not wish to be so. However, it may be within your rights – depending on your circumstances – to take action if an employee will not be vaccinated and you think there are good reasons why they should be. In some circumstances, employees could in fact be dismissed for refusing the vaccination if it means they will present a threat to others.

Unless you are in a sector and/or job role where there are pressing health and safety reasons for staff to have the vaccine, you may not be able to insist or take action if an employee refuses to be vaccinated.

However, it’s always worth bearing in mind that employees who have less than two years’ service do not have the right to claim unfair dismissal – except in certain limited cases – and that those who provide their services on a self-employed or zero hours basis might also be less protected.

Laura Kearsley
Laura Kearsley

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