British employers have been warned that forcing staff to have the coronavirus vaccination could amount to a criminal offence, amid concerns over “no jab, no job” policies emerging.
Only care home staff in England will need to have both vaccine doses to work under current legislation, with a consultation taking place on whether to extend this to NHS employees.
But in the US, tech giants Facebook and Google are among those to say their staff will have to show proof they have been fully vaccinated before returning to their workplaces.
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The equalities watchdog has urged companies to be “proportionate” and “non-discriminatory”, while the UK government has stressed that firms proposing to check the vaccination status of staff “will need to consider how this fits with their legal obligations”.
Advice from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) says “mandatory vaccination is an intrusion on an employee’s body and may discriminate on the basis of disability, or religious or philosophical belief.”
“Employers cannot forcibly vaccinate employees or potential employees, unless they work in a sector (such as care homes) where a legal requirement is introduced,” it states.
“Enforced vaccination would be a criminal offence against the person and an unlawful injury leading to claims such as assault and battery.”
The CIPD – which represents human resources professionals and has more than 160,000 members – adds that the European Convention on Human Rights “protects people from being interfered with physically or psychologically (which includes mandatory vaccination)”.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has suggested it is “a good idea” for people to be double jabbed before returning to the office but said it will not be required by legislation.
He told Sky News: “We are not going to make that legislation that every adult has to be double vaccinated before they go back to the office, but yes it is a good idea and yes some companies will require it.”
‘Good idea’ to get two jabs before returning to office – Shapps
A government spokesperson told Sky News on Saturday: “While we would welcome employers encouraging their staff to be vaccinated, employers who propose to check the vaccination status of staff will need to consider how this fits with their legal obligations under employment, equalities, data protection, and health and safety law.”
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has said it understands that firms will want to protect their staff and their customers by requiring employees to be vaccinated, but it advises them to take other factors into consideration.
An EHRC spokesman said: “Employers are right to want to protect their staff and their customers, particularly in contexts where people are at risk, such as care homes.
“However, requirements must be proportionate, non-discriminatory and make provision for those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.”
Parliament approved legislation earlier this month to introduce compulsory COVID vaccinations for care home staff in England.
Care home staff in England will have to be fully vaccinated to work. Pic: AP
From the autumn, anyone working in a Care Quality Commission-registered care home in England must have two doses of the vaccine unless they have a medical exemption.
But the impact of such a policy on jobs is not fully understood by the government.
Its own best estimate suggests around 40,000 care home staff risk being lost as a result of the compulsory vaccinations, adding that it could cost the industry £100m to replace.
But the government is yet to compile a full impact assessment of the policy, something which frustrated several Tory MPs earlier this month when they discussed the issue.
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On Friday, health minister Helen Whately, in response to a written parliamentary question, maintained the assessment will be “published shortly”.
By the end of September, when all UK adults are expected to have been offered both doses of the COVID vaccine, the government plans to make full vaccination a condition of entry to a number of venues where large crowds gather.
However a number of Conservative MPs have told Sky News they do not think the government will follow through and actually introduce domestic vaccine passports.
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tories, said that vaccine passports for domestic use would be a “massive step and a misguided one”.