Employers advised to ‘recommend not mandate’ Covid-19 vaccine

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A leading HR consultant is advising Irish employers to recommend Covid-19 vaccination to employees rather than making it mandatory when a vaccine is rolled out.

HR Team Director, Breda Cullen, says the imminent availability of an approved vaccine has raised questions for employers over the legalities in mandating a vaccination for their teams.

She says: “At present, there is no employment law surrounding how employers might manage the introduction of a vaccine and whether they can make it mandatory or not for employees. However, in all circumstances, it will be important to be clear within internal policies and procedures.

“Although the vaccine has not yet been approved, it is a reminder for employers to begin preparations and revise organisations’ policies to incorporate a returning to work policy into employee handbooks.”

Employers advised not to mandate vaccine

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There are widespread fears that it is likely that a vaccine would be used before its safety and effectiveness are fully understood. However, employers may want to mandate coronavirus vaccinations to protect employees’ and customers’ health, and reduce the likelihood of transmission on the job.

“Employers should suggest and recommend a vaccine but not mandate it, given the uncertainty over potential side effects.” Ms Cullen added. “Many employees will have their own personal views relating to taking a vaccine, and this will need to be respected by employers, where possible.”

A Covid-19 vaccine mandate may be required in certain environments that present high risk for virus transmission, such as meat plants, high capacity venues or health-care facilities. This would be required more so than it would in a workplace where employees can be safely spaced apart or one which offers remote working options.

“Most employers are likely to be flexible on Covid-19 vaccination in the interest of avoiding conflict within the organisation, bad publicity and potential litigation, especially if employees are able to work remotely.

Netflix has stated that staff will return to offices when a Covid-19 vaccine is approved, whereas Google, Twitter and many more organisations have committed to long-term remote work plans.

“Safe working procedures are an essential line of defence against Covid-19. Employers should have Covid-19 working protocols in place which contain many measures to protect against cross-infection. Regardless of this, now is a good time to carry out risk assessments and ensure working practices are adequately controlled and safe. Safe Team – a division of HR Team – provides these services.

“Ultimately, it is a personal choice for every person. In these uncertain times, employers need to start thinking about their strategies when it comes to minimising the potential of any related absences, workplace unrest or further closure of business due to an outbreak,” said Ms Cullen.

There are at least 50 vaccines in development globally, according to the Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society. Oxford’s vaccine results could be ready by Christmas, as regulators conduct reviews.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin recently met with the head of the National Vaccines Taskforce, Professor Brian MacCraith, who hopes to deliver the strategy on vaccine distribution by December 11.

DMG Media Ireland conducted a survey that found that 40% of Irish people would not accept a vaccine, 44% of respondents stated that they would, while a further 16% of participants remained uncertain. This highlights ethical and legal issues that employers could be.

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