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Protecting staff from COVID-19 and supporting them over vaccination

With the lifting of most COVID-19 restrictions in England, many employers have been encouraging staff to return to the office.

Many will also be considering whether they should impose a mandatory vaccination policy on staff members and what are the potential legal pitfalls of doing so. If members of staff contract COVID-19 at work, could the employer be found liable and sued?

Although most restrictions have been lifted, employers still have a duty of care to look after their staff’s health.

During the height of the pandemic Government guidance was for employers to put in place all necessary health and safety measures like sanitisers, PPE where required, screens at workstations and working from home arrangements. Many employers still have these measures in place.

So for staff members to prove they caught COVID-19 at the workplace might be difficult, as they could have picked it up at home or travelling to their place of work. For an employee to sue the employer they must prove that some form of negligence occurred on the employers’ part.

Before making decisions as to whether to introduce a mandatory vaccination policy, employers may find it useful to talk with their staff about the vaccine and share the benefits of being vaccinated.

Guidance from Acas, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, says employers should include recognised trade union or staff representatives in any discussions.

It could help to discuss things like:

  • The Government’s latest vaccine health information
  • How staff can access the vaccine
  • If staff will need time off work to get vaccinated
  • Pay for time off work related to the vaccine
  • Whether the employer plans to collect data on staff vaccinations, and if so, how this will follow data protection law (UK GDPR)

To encourage staff to get the vaccine, employers might consider:

  • Sharing government vaccine health information with staff
  • Offering paid time off for vaccination appointments
  • Paying staff their usual rate of pay if they’re off sick with vaccine side effects, instead of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)
  • Not counting vaccine-related absences in absence records or towards any ‘trigger’ system the organisation may have

Talking with staff can help to:

  • Agree a vaccine policy that’s appropriate for both staff and the organisation
  • Support staff to protect their health
  • Keep good working relationships and avoid disputes in the future

Any decision after that discussion should be put in writing, for example in a workplace policy. It must also be in line with the organisation’s existing disciplinary and grievance policy and follow discrimination law.

Employers should be sensitive towards personal situations and must keep any concerns confidential. They must be careful to avoid discrimination.

For help and advice on employment matters, contact our expert team.

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