Preparation For The Vaccine Roll Out In The Workplace
Following what has been an incredible year of challenge and uncertainty, the commencement of the vaccine roll out has started to shed an optimistic light on the days ahead.
With the UK’s post lockdown roadmap now underway, people are cautiously returning to a way of life, reminiscent of times before the pandemic began. Businesses in hospitality, none-essential retail, health and beauty are recommencing trade again. Their first time since the enforced lockdown three, which commenced on the 6 January.
PM Boris Johnson has announced the government’s roadmap to cautiously ease lockdown restrictions in England
Yet the inevitable and palpable excitement that comes with the re-opening of society, brings with it further considerations for Human Resources Practitioners. Once again there are significant considerations around how HR can support employees back to the workplace safely, but there are also parameters and considerations around the Covid-19 vaccine and to what extent Human Resources should or should not mandate that employees become vaccinated.
What Are the Guidelines From the Government on Vaccinations?
In the UK, there is no legal basis or programme in place that mandates for vaccinations being taken up. This stance applies to vaccinations beyond those introduced as a response to the pandemic. What this ultimately determines is that if there is no legal basis from the government to take up vaccinations, then it could well prove problematic if your organization were to mandate the take up of vaccinations for employee’s.
Vaccines are a type of prescription-only medicine. Their purpose is to stimulate a person’s immune system to produce antibodies that fight a specific disease, so that the person develops ‘immunological memory’. If the body is later exposed to the same natural infection, immunological memory enables the immune system to recognise and respond to it rapidly, thereby preventing or modifying the severity of the disease
The only guidance provided to the general public regarding vaccinations relates to healthcare workers. Again this is guidance only, which despite being instructive by nature does not mandate the take up of the vaccinations being offered.
Suffice to say however, that in the context of the pandemic situation and the disruption Covid-19 has had on people’s lives, there is much debate on the ethics of whether vaccinations should become mandated as they are in Italy, France and for the first time Germany. Yet as it currently stands there are no plans in place for the government to change this stance in the immediate term.
Is It Possible To Instruct Employees To Be Vaccinated?
Reasonable instructions within the workplace are permissible in contracts and employment law. However, despite some employers such as pimlico plumbers who have controversially stated that they will not employ anybody that has not been or refuses to become vaccinated. Employment lawyers are in disagreement about whether it is legally acceptable for managers to make a “reasonable instruction” or ask employees to take the vaccine. Furthermore there is even more seeming discourse about whether action could also be taken as a result.
Ultimately, asking employees to take the vaccine at work is incumbent upon a number of factors, specifically whether in doing so, protecting other employees, or in the case of public facing roles such as those in medicine, retail or hospitality, whether people they come into contact with would also be protected.
An employer however cannot lawfully ‘force’ employees to be vaccinated. Nor can it sanction or dismiss employees who refuse to do so in response to receiving an invitation to be vaccinated.
Legally, companies cannot force employees to take a vaccine
Both the public health (control of disease) act 1984 which states that members of the public should not be compelled to undergo any mandatory medical treatment, which includes vaccinations. In addition to the equality act 2010, provides protection to employees, contractors and freelance workers from discrimination and unfair dismissal, in instances where those employees fall within a protected group.
Yet it is important for HR practitioners to consider that the government and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have maintained their advice that vaccinated people are significantly less likely to transmit the virus.
How Should Employers Plan for COVID-19 Vaccinations?
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) suggests that it’s worthwhile for employers to consider having a policy around healthcare and vaccinations, including COVID-19. Yet it’s important to also bear in mind that
- Two doses of vaccination greatly reduce the chance of suffering from COVID-19, however there is no vaccine that offers 100% protection
- There’s a likelihood that it will take some time to vaccinate and revaccinate the entire UK population so risks won’t be eliminated immediately
In addition to making changes to employment policies it’s a valuable consideration that employers also seek to encourage vaccination where possible. Particularly in light of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, which obliges employers to take reasonable steps to reduce any workplace risks.
As the UK’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout continues, employers should prepare for its impact on the wider population and their workforce
As a result, this duty to ensure the workplace is a safe environment, gives employers sufficient justification to encourage their workforce to become vaccinated, thus protecting themselves and others within their place of work.
A suggested approach to publicising vaccine encouragement is through a communications campaign. One that both raises awareness of the vaccination roll out and draws on the latest information being shared by the NHS.
It’s also vital to tie communication in with managers to leverage their access to individuals and teams who may be working remotely and potentially disconnected from the typical drum beat of communications. Ensuring those with line management responsibility are aware of policy changes and the planned organisational approaches will also help aid continuity of messaging as it evolves.
Employees and Managers alike will also be looking for factual yet accessible information that can be easily understood whilst seeking to address any questions or concerns they may be having.
It’s also worthwhile preparing managers for what may arise and how to respond to employee’s who may raise concerns or be reticent about receiving the vaccine. Being prepared about the potential for misinformation or vaccine conspiracy theories that could have been viewed via social media, or may even be being discussed amongst peers virtually or in person.
Should these matters arise, then individual discussions between managers and individuals are the advisable process. Here, concerns can be heard, fears allayed and advice provided on resources that can provide further information. It is important however to help managers understand that applying pressure to individuals to take up the vaccine is not advisable and that concerns employees may be having should be heard and supported.
Vaccination Policy Considerations
Updating or developing policies that your organisation may have on vaccinations will provide employees with an understanding of your organisation’s position on vaccination. Whilst also making clear the ways in which managers and HR will respond to the program of vaccination as it rolls out from the NHS.
It is vital of course that the policy take into account the legal and discrimination aspects, whilst also providing information on data protection and how the recording of vaccination take up will be recorded on HR systems and data bases like the modules available via Sage HR.
The CIPD also advises that taking a voluntary approach rather than mandatory one in setting out the aims and objectives of any vaccination policy will help build trust with employees in addition to also encouraging them to make decisions based on correct and valid information. The aims therefore of the policy will be to combine the stance that the organisation is taking on supporting vaccination programmes, in addition to explaining the benefits that taking up vaccine offers will have.
Preparing for Different Objections
Different groups of employees may have varied objections to accepting the vaccine when it’s offered. Therefore HR can prepare for this by having an advanced consideration of the different objections that may arise and readying managers with advice on how to provide support.
Employees may have specific medical concerns that cause them to decline taking the vaccine, i.e a history of allergic reactions or a fear of needles, which is known as trypanophobia. Equally vaccine hesitancy may also be experienced with employees who have concerns which may have arisen resulting from a variety of reasons.
Vaccines are the most effective way to prevent infectious diseases
The NHS have prepared a series of q&a and accompanying videos to advise on how to support vaccine hesitancy which can be shared as part of communications or in direct response to concerns as they are raised.
For employees who may be pregnant or breastfeeding, there may understandably be questions relating to their specific situation. It’s valuable however to advise managers of pregnant women and those that may be pregnant directly that a recent change in guidance has resulted in vaccinations now being advised to be taken up by this group.
Those who are breastfeeding are also currently being advised to take up the vaccine. In both scenario’s more detailed advice has been made available via the UK government website, which in turn can be communicated or signposted to employee’s.
There may also be scenario’s where employees refuse to take the vaccine on the basis of religious or philosophical belief. In both of these scenarios an awareness of these beliefs being protected under the equality act 2010, is important. So too is helping managers to understand the parameters of this act and the implications that might arise in instances of indirect discrimination.
In all instances of objections, it’s vital that HR and managers are prepared to hear out any concerns and be prepared to support alternative ways of working that will continue to be COVID-19 secure.
Key Tasks for HR
Leveraging the time saving aspects of your HR software for the recording and management of employee information will be a valuable addition whilst the vaccination programme unfolds.
Some key tasks to build into your check list include
- Updating your employees profiles to easily record who’s had or has not received the the COVID-19 vaccine
- Downloading regular data & reports to see exactly who’s been vaccinated, so you can keep your people safe and COVID-19 secure as the vaccine roll-out unfolds
- Create a communications schedule, along with professional letter templates to encourage your staff to have the vaccine
- Share regular communications with your people to educate them on the vaccine and answer any complex questions
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