Personal Law

Can My Employer Force Me to Be Vaccinated?

Estimated read time: 4 mins

Carrie Tennick, February 18, 2021

The UK’s Covid-19 vaccine programme has been rolled out and more than 12 million people have already had their first dose.

Once the top priority groups have been vaccinated, it’ll be the turn of younger people – those more likely to be working.

This has led to many people wondering whether their employers can force them to have the jab.

Are vaccines mandatory?

There are no laws that would allow your employer to force you to be vaccinated. In fact, there is a piece of legislation that prevents people being forced to receive any medical treatment, which includes vaccines – the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984.

Health secretary Matt Hancock has said that the government is not proposing making the vaccine mandatory, making it an individual choice.

But can private companies force their employees to get the jab?

Can I be forced to get a vaccine?

Companies can’t force employees to get the vaccine, and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has said that being vaccinated “must not be made a condition of employment”. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has also said: “Employers cannot insist on vaccination without an employee’s consent as forcing a reluctant employee to have a vaccination would be a criminal assault.”

But some businesses have expressed their intention to make employment conditional on their employees having a vaccine. This could involve rewriting employment contracts for existing workers and setting out in contracts for new employees that a vaccine is necessary. Justice secretary Robert Buckland has suggested that companies could stipulate that new employees must be vaccinated, adding that the issue "would have to be tested".

London’s Pimlico Plumbers has been one of the highest-profile supporters of employees having to be vaccinated, saying: “We will, when vaccinations are readily available, make having one a condition of employment for all people who are able to have the vaccine safely.”

Businesses could also refuse unvaccinated staff members access to certain areas in the workplace or prevent them taking on certain duties.

But this may be risky for companies.

Legal issues around forced vaccinations

Employees could also refuse to be vaccinated for reasons including breastfeeding, being pregnant, disability or allergy, religion or veganism if the vaccine contains animal products. But it’s important to note that the jabs approved in the UK don’t contain any animal components.

Companies may expect that their employees will be vaccinated, but if this expectation becomes action, they could find themselves in legal difficulty.

A company that terminates someone’s employment for refusing a vaccine could risk claims of unfair dismissal. But that option is only available to contracted employees who have worked for the company for at least two years.

If an employee is dismissed for refusing the vaccine on any of these grounds, their employer could open themselves up to discrimination claims. And if the employee resigns in protest against being made to get the vaccine as an employment condition, they could have a valid constructive dismissal claim.

What should my employer do?

Many employers will want their staff members to get the vaccine to allow more people into workplaces safely and to get back to a more normal state.

As they are responsible for your health and safety at work, they should make sure they are informed about the vaccines. They can encourage you and your colleagues to be vaccinated by sharing information on the benefits, as well as allowing discussions about the issue within the organisation.

As there has been a huge amount of false information spread about vaccines, your employer could further encourage take up by addressing this misinformation and sharing the facts.

Your employer can also make it easier for you to be vaccinated by allowing you paid time off to receive your jab. They may also choose to pay for private vaccinations if this becomes an option. It might be something we see more of as the rollout continues.

What you can do

When it comes to vaccines, your employer won’t be able to force you to get one. And companies that amend contracts to make being vaccinated a condition of employment may find themselves facing legal trouble.

As in many cases, the best idea will be to talk openly with your employer about the issue of vaccines. Let them know your perspective and make sure to listen to theirs. Coming to an agreement together will always be the most beneficial outcome.

Meanwhile, if you’re facing an employment law issue, from an unfair dismissal to a contract dispute, First4Lawyers could help.

Just get in touch to find out how our expert solicitors can guide you through a stressful and frustrating time.


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