What are the issues surrounding mandatory vaccines for employees?

Posted in : Seamus Says - Employment Law Discussion on 3 June 2021
Seamus McGranaghan
O'Reilly Stewart Solicitors
Issues covered: Covid-19, Vaccines, Mandatory Vaccinations, Discrimination

They are both covered for those who are subscribers in the weekly review of development, and they are the Employment and Human Rights Commission in GB has accepted that compulsory vaccinations for staff in the care sector and care homes is reasonable from an equality and human rights perspective. And the second thing is that we've actually got a piece of employment legislation laid before the Parliament, or the Assembly rather, in Stormont, and that is on parental bereavement leave and pay. And so we've had some developments there, Seamus, before we move on to today's subjects.

Seamus: Yeah, so maybe just one because they're both issues that we have discussed previously on our podcast, so it's just good to bring the listeners up to date as well. But, yeah, look, interesting there that the Equality and Human Rights Commission have come back now to say that the mandatory vaccinations are now recommended. Now they're specifically recommended for care home workers. And what they've said is that it's reasonable to require care home workers who work directly with older and disabled people to be vaccinated.

So we had talked previously about those sort of high-risk groups. And, you know, employers across the board I think in general are keen to have staff vaccinated and from risk assessments to, you know, getting businesses back open again, and all of those factors that employers will look at. And there has been this bit of hesitation there. There has been some findings from government in relation to the compulsory aspect of vaccinations. It's a thorny topic as we know, because some people are against vaccination. They don't for religious beliefs, for philosophical beliefs, whatever it is they are not on board with it.

You know it is a step in relation to someone maybe taking a view that their human rights are being impinged, but it is interesting to see here that you have that the watchdog, the EHRC recommending that we have compulsory vaccination, so I think that it is, it's important. One thing, I was reading just a quote there and was going to mention that they say that, "In our view, it is therefore reasonable to require a care home staff to be vaccinated in order to work directly with older and disabled people, and subject to some important safeguards to ensure the requirement remains proportionate and to minimise the risk of unlawful discrimination, or breaches of care home workers' human rights."

So they talk about, you know, that there will be exemptions to that, people obviously that maybe have allergies, or where there are religious beliefs that they mightn't be required, but it's a step forward and you wonder is it the opening of the door for other industries in relation to making it compulsory.

But I think also that it does put a very clear line down. We know what those other businessmen and women that have come forward to say that they would be keen for it. But when you've got an organisation now like this and an important organisation coming forward to say, this is what they would recommend, it might leave a bit of a difficulty for others then to push that door open in relation to compulsory vaccinations. And so that's exciting. It's one to watch. Absolutely.

Scott: Yeah, and of course, I suppose it's important to stress that just because the GB employment or sorry, Equality and Human Rights Commission say something doesn't mean it say applies here, nor does it make it law in any way whatsoever but as maybe an indication of the way they're thinking. I suppose from your point of view that I remember at one stage Legal Island were going to put in an ad saying no smokers need apply and, you know, the training and employment agency as it was at the time said, "No, that's discriminatory," We go, "How is it discriminatory?" But you know what would the impact be if you had an organisation that said, "No one without a vaccine need apply for this job"? What impact would that have on people?

Mairead: I would probably urge caution on lots of different fronts for organisations that are mandating vaccinations factor for employment. I think from a moral and ethical point of view is it right to do that for the groups that they are in? But as Seamus said there's lots of people who potentially can't get vaccinated because of their own sort of health issues, and are we then creating a very divisive workforce, a very divided workforce? Are we creating barriers to employment for people unnecessarily?

I absolutely understand that in some situations where you're dealing with high risk and highly vulnerable people that might be a condition for the employment, but I think from an employer's point of view, I would urge caution in terms of asking for employees to be vaccinated as a term of their employment because you could find that you are cutting off a significant sort of pool of talent for the organisation from the employer brand sort of perspective, what will that look like? Is that creating an inclusive environment for all employees? So I think that might be a barrier. Longer term, I know when we're in the middle of this sort of the issue that we're dealing with right now it is a fairly contentious issue, but I think we need to take a long-term view of like what that would mean both for the employer, and for the wider sort of society in terms of how we're treating people when we're asking them to be vaccinated as a condition of employment, if it's not entirely necessary.


This article is correct at 03/06/2021

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Seamus McGranaghan
O'Reilly Stewart Solicitors

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