There are two notable considerations regarding the Covid-19 vaccine in the context of work. These are:
- whether all workers returning to work should prove they have been vaccinated before being allowed access to the workplace
- whether the vaccination of high-risk worker populations should be mandatory.
It must be remembered that vaccination is an invasive, medical procedure which the worker has the right to refuse. Refusal is not a justified reason for legal dismissal, nor at this stage is it a legal cause to refuse access to the workplace. Therefore, employers cannot insist that all workers are vaccinated. However, they may ask workers to indicate whether or not they have been vaccinated, as this will have an impact on the risk assessment for a Covid-secure workplace.
For occupations such as healthcare workers and care home workers, where the risk of Covid-19 poses a risk to the worker and/or the client/patient they are treating, vaccination should be offered as a priority. This is nothing new; workers have been offered vaccinations as a preventative measure for decades. Examples include healthcare workers being offered vaccines for hepatitis B, teachers offered influenza vaccines and vets being offered rabies vaccines. What Covid-19 has done is increase our awareness of the need to offer a vaccine to a worker where it is available and has been proved to prevent infection.
There has been debate about restricting the access to work of high-risk sector workers who have refused a vaccination eg unvaccinated care workers who then increase the transmission risk to care home residents. Globally some governments have made vaccination mandatory. The UK Government had intended making Covid-19 vaccination a condition of employment in the NHS health and social care sectors but have retracted this requirement. Cases need to be managed on a case-by-case basis, using a risk-based approach addressing all barriers and confounders. Refer to Making work Covid Secure for further advice on making the workplace safe.
Guidance on workers refusing vaccination
Some workers may refuse to be vaccinated. It is important to engage with these individuals and to understand the nature of their concerns. The following process can be used to ensure these workers are making an informed decision and that, where they continue to resist vaccination, they and co-workers are kept safe.
Step 1- Listen and understand their concerns
Reasons for refusal are varied and it is important that these reasons are understood and respected. They may be based on fear, a lack of understanding, religious beliefs or disinformation. Respect their view and do not try to force them to change their perspective.
Step 2- Share trusted information
Once their stance is understood you need to provide them with reliable sources of information that can be used to allay their concerns and possibly persuade them of the benefits of vaccination. Reliable sources include the NHS and WHO websites. Have those who have been vaccinated share their experiences with these workers. If they still do not want to be vaccinated this must be respected and cannot be used as a means of discrimination.
Step 3 – Risk assessment and implementation
Revisit the Covid-secure risk assessment and determine what additional actions may be necessary to accommodate their safe return to work. Inform them of the risk assessment outcomes and implement any additional controls that were identified. It should be remembered that many people have not taken up the vaccine and for this reason it is necessary to ensure that non-pharmaceutical measures (hand washing, face masks, ventilation and social distancing) are still implemented in the workplace.
Business travel and vaccine certificates
Many countries closed their borders to non-essential travel, at the peak of the pandemic and again where variants of concern were identified, including business travel, as they tried to control the spread of the virus and possible variants within their borders. The enforcement of Covid-19 testing and prescribed quarantine as a travel requirement become a reality in many countries. As the vaccination programme evolves, health measures are being eased in some countries for travellers where they can demonstrate they have been vaccinated. Europe has introduced a vaccine certificate, which travellers use as evidence of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. Where a vaccine certificate is recognised, travellers may be exempt from mandatory Covid-19 testing or quarantine at the destination. These measures are country specific and change frequently. Where business travellers have not been vaccinated, they will likely be subjected to these health measures, which may impact travel plans. Always check with your host country when planning travel.