COVID-19 vaccinations are to become mandatory for some care home staff under plans to be announced by the Government, and it is considering extending the move to all NHS staff.
Workers who provide direct personal care, including any working/visiting adults (e.g. volunteers, hairdressers, tradespeople, beauticians) will have 16 weeks to get both jabs from the time regulations are approved by Parliament. Failure to have the jab means they face being redeployed away from front-line care or potentially losing their job unless “vaccination is not clinically appropriate” and they are exempt (we await the full list of exemptions).
The consultation outcome document clearly states “We have considered exemptions for those who hold, and refuse the vaccine due to, religious beliefs and opted not to provide this exemption. Such an exemption would be difficult to implement and prove and would likely significantly reduce the impact of the policy in achieving its aims of increasing levels of protection for both residents and staff. It may also cause tension between those who have been exempted, and other staff who have received the vaccine, as a condition of deployment”.
What is worth noting is that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is overall in agreement, and has said a “proportionate approach” to requiring Covid-19 jabs for care home staff could “help ease restrictions and allow them to perform their jobs safely, and residents to live more independently…In legislating for mandatory vaccination the government is right to prioritise protection of the right to life for residents and staff…In our view it is therefore reasonable to require care home staff to be vaccinated in order to work directly with older and disabled people, subject to some important safeguards to ensure the requirement remains proportionate and to minimise the risk of unlawful discrimination or breaches of care workers’ human rights.”
So what should employers be considering?
As the government has announced that vaccination will be compulsory for all English care homes regulated by the Care Quality Commission, this will be enshrined in legislation, meaning that care home employers will be able to rely on a legislative basis for dismissing employees who refuse the vaccine. Employers will still have to follow a fair procedure and this must include considering redeployment to a non-frontline care role.
According to the consultation outcome, following parliamentary approval, there will be a 16-week grace period before the requirement to be vaccinated comes into effect. The exact timing of this is yet to be announced, but if the legislation is being introduced in October, it could well be that employers need to start preparing now for this grace period, and not assume that the period will start from October.
- Communicating with employees about COVID-19 vaccinations needs to start now. Some employees will be unwilling or reluctant to have a COVID-19 vaccination. An employee may have a genuine medical, religious or ethical objection, or they may simply have a cautious nature and may be adopting a “wait and see” approach. Employers should ensure that they have a strategy in place for communication, education and information to ensure employees are making an informed decision.
- Planning for the loss of experienced employees in a sector that already suffers with staff shortages is essential to ensure continued operations. Employers may want to consider introducing a mandatory policy now for new employees but should contact EML for further advice on this, as there is a risk of unfair dismissal/discrimination claims if not handled correctly.
- An employer who asks employees for information relating to their vaccination must be clear about its reasons for doing so in order to comply with data protection obligations. The Information Commissioner’s Office has published guidance for organisations on when collecting vaccination data can be justified which should be considered, and privacy notices updated accordingly
If you would like any further information or if you have any questions regarding the information discussed in this article, please get in touch on 01942 727200.