Workers could face ‘no jab, no job’ as vaccine rolled out
- Credit: SARAH LUCY BROWN
Employees across Suffolk and north Essex could find themselves denied work unless they agree to get a coronavirus jab, some experts believe.
While many employers across the region appear reluctant to adopt an either-or stance as vaccines are rolled out to less vulnerable groups, some legal experts believe they may be on firm ground if they do insist on it.
However, others see pitfalls if they try to demand it rather than using the power of persuasion.
Ipswich law firm Prettys carried out an anonymous survey of 80 business owners, which found 77% would employ someone who had not received a jab versus 23% who would not.
Meanwhile, 7% would go as far as sacking someone who refused to have one, versus 93% who wouldn’t.
Prettys head of employment Matthew Cole said it was an emotive issue and some held deep concerns, but added: “In terms of employment law, there is nothing in principle to stop an employer requiring an employee to be vaccinated before they start work.”
A worker with more than two years’ service could potentially challenge their dismissal as unfair, he said, but went on: “In most cases, however, I suspect that an employer would be able to justify its requirement – particularly if it demonstrated that the vaccine does protect person to person transmission.”
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He believed that claims of discrimination would only apply in “very rare” cases.
But HR consultant Tracey Munro, of Mad-HR, said there was a host of considerations.
“The fact that the government have not made the vaccination compulsory means that it is not unlawful for employees to choose not to have it,” she pointed out.
“It may be possible for an employer to justify that this is a ‘proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’ but there may need to be exceptions made on health or religious grounds.”
The region's employers appear to be leaning towards active persuasion as jabs are rolled out.
Sarah Seaman, founder and director of Sarah’s Carers, a Woodbridge-based home and live-in care agency, said all her 23 home carers had received their first jab “without hesitation” after her active encouragement.
However, she said she had taken a voluntary approach. She hoped back-office staff would take a similar approach when their turn came.
“As a registered nurse, I am a great advocate for the benefits of vaccines,” she said.
“Of course, there were some initial worries around long-term effects but, as a team, we worked through these concerns together, ultimately coming to the conclusion that we are fighting a bigger battle for our clients.”
She is unsure yet how it will factor in the firm’s recruitment practices in the future, she said. “But I would hope that those who are looking to work in the care industry are willing to go above and beyond to keep older and vulnerable people safe,” she said.
Stephanie Hammond, director of Ipswich chartered accountants Beatons Group, said ideally her firm would like employees to have the jab and she would be encouraging them to do so.
“Like many other businesses, we have had various office discussions regarding vaccinations and the general opinion among staff seems to be that they will do whatever is required to allow us to return to some kind of normality.
“That said, these discussions have been on the lighter side of the subject, involving holidays, sporting events and pubs, and we haven’t given any thought to employing or not employing someone dependent on their vaccination position.”
Philip Turner - founder and managing director of the Chestnut Group, which runs 12 pubs across East Anglia all currently closed due to lockdown - feared with a young workforce at the bottom of the priority list, making jabs mandatory could open up age discrimination issues.
However, practical measures including temperature testing staff on arrival would remain a top priority once pubs reopen, he said.
“In our view, it is highly likely that we will be open in some form April/May.
"Most of our team are 25 or less. I am pretty certain that the majority of them will not have received the vaccine, hence we will inadvertently be 'age discriminating' our employees.
"Secondly, as it stands the government is unable to impose a requirement – we are ethically not in a position to take a position that the government will not."
Roger Catchpole - boss at Stow Healthcare, which operates six premium nursing homes across the region - said: “We are watching with interest the decisions being made by large companies both within and outside healthcare but we haven’t made any decisions yet on jab requirements.”