Can You Make Your Employees Have the COVID Vaccine?

7 Mar 2021

When it comes to vaccinating your workforce, you may be tempted to make it a mandatory process so that you can ensure the highest levels of safety. However, there is a very fine line between acting in everyone’s best interests and breaking the law and keeping on the right side of that line is essential when you are the one in charge.

If you are concerned about how to proceed whilst respecting the right of an individual to refuse vaccination, then we have the legal answers you need so that your business can run with the least disruption possible.

What Does the Law Say?

Put simply, there is no law that can be used to force an individual to be vaccinated. In reality, the opposite is more accurate as the Public Health Act of 1984 (Control of Disease) stipulates that no one can be compelled to undergo any form of medical treatment, including being vaccinated. Therefore, by trying to force an employee to be vaccinated, you will be breaking the law.

To further cement this position, the European Convention of Human Rights, Article 8, provides protection to individuals against being medically interfered with physically or physiologically, including being vaccinated. This means that insisting on vaccination at work would be directly contravening an individual’s liberty and human rights.

Can a Business Insist on Vaccinations?

Many businesses remain confused about whether they can insist on vaccines, but the simple answer is that they cannot. Even if your contracts of employment have a strict medical clause, then the reality is that all medical interventions require freely offered consent and would have the potential for legal repercussions if you attempted to insist on a vaccination.

The Criminal Argument

In addition to contravening an individual’s human rights, forcing an employee to have a vaccination could also result in criminal charges being brought against you and your business. By forcing vaccination on a person under duress could possibly result in an unlawful injury charge being made. It is essential to note that any form of vaccination must be given with the person’s full understanding and consent.

The Anti-Vaccination Argument

If your employees hold an anti-vaccination belief, then forcing them to undergo a vaccination could also infringe on their protected beliefs, resulting in a tribunal to address whether their belief was the cause of unfair dismissal under the Equality Act 2010.

The Religious and Philosophical Argument

Dismissing religious and lifestyle concerns in favour of forcing an employee to have a vaccination could result in a case under the Equality Act. This is because the vast majority of vaccines use pork gelatine which could result in concern for specific religions or vegetarians and vegans.

Compelling Staff indirectly

Indirectly compelling staff by refusing them access to certain areas of work or specific roles is also a dangerous tact to take, especially if they are in a protected group. If your employee refuses due to their disability/religion or philosophical belief, then they can take out a discrimination or unfair dismissal claim against you.

What About Vaccinating Staff that Work with Vulnerable People?

All employees are entitled to work in a safe environment under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974. However, this does not mean that you can use this law to insist on vaccination. It is the employers’ responsibility to work with the individual to find a range of less-invasive steps that may provide the safety required, such as social distancing and remote working. Failure to do this could result in an employment tribunal, where your actions as an employer will be assessed to decide if they have been proportionate or not.