EMPLOYERS are being warned against trying to force staff to have the Covid vaccine under threat of the sack.

The only workplaces where bosses can order staff to be vaccinated are regulated care homes, where it will be compulsory from November 11.

But other employers have been keen to encourage vaccinations.

Laura Bowyer, HR and employment law specialist at the Affable Partnership in Park Gate, said: “Employers can strongly encourage employees to accept the vaccination. Across all settings, employers are obliged under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to take reasonable steps to reduce any workplace risks, encouraging uptake of the vaccination among employees to protect themselves and everyone else at the workplace is one way to reduce the risks.” 

But she said the legality of disciplining staff who refused to be jabbed would depend on their reasons. “If the objection is related to protected characteristics such as disability or belief, it could be discrimination to discipline or dismiss the employee,” she said.

“Before going as far as to dismiss an employee, employers would need to consider options short of dismissal. These might include allowing an exception, redeployment to another role, or potentially keeping the employee working from home if possible.

“It remains to be seen if Employment Tribunals would accept that measures such as regular lateral flow testing, evidence of natural immunity, or mask wearing could or should be deployed as alternatives for employees who refuse vaccination in circumstances where their employer has reasonable grounds to consider their dismissal.”

Charlotte Farrell, an associate in the employment team at Southampton law firm Paris Smith, said: “Unless someone works in a care home and is covered by the new regulations in force from November 2021, there is no legal obligation for an individual to have the vaccine and therefore a decision about their employment cannot be made solely on the basis of their vaccine status.

“An employer who requires employees to receive a vaccination to attend work could potentially be open to the risk of a discrimination claim on the grounds of disability, age, religion or belief depending on the reason for refusal.

“In addition, if an employer were to dismiss an employee or refuse to give them work, because they haven’t had the vaccine, they may be opening themselves up to an unfair dismissal claim, assuming that the employee has at least two years of service.

“If a vulnerable employee raises concerns about being around unvaccinated employees then the employer should carry out a risk assessment for that particular vulnerable employee and look at steps to mitigate those risks but this should not focus on preventing the unvaccinated person from attending work but look at other ways the vulnerable employee could be kept safe, for example alterations to their working arrangements, PPE or other steps,” she added.