A leading HR consultant is advising Northern Ireland employers to recommend Covid-19 vaccination to employees rather than making it mandatory.

HR Team Director, Breda Cullen, says the imminent availability of the 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.

“The approval of the vaccine is a reminder for employers to begin preparations and revise organisations’ policies to incorporate a returning to work policy into employee handbooks.”

Britain’s medicines regulator, the MHRA, says the jab, which offers up to 95% protection against Covid-19 illness, is safe to be rolled out.

The first doses have arrived in hospitals around the UK. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the NHS will contact people about jabs.

Matt Hancock Vaccine Rollout

Pictured: Health Secretary, Matt Hancock

The UK has already ordered enough to vaccinate 20 million people. The doses will be rolled out as quickly as they can with the first load next week and then “several millions” throughout December.

A survey of 1,000 British people conducted by Kantar this month found that while 75% of people said they would be likely to get vaccinated, 11% said they would ‘probably not’ and a further 8% stated ‘definitely not’. This leads to ethical and legal issues employers could be faced with if staff refuse to accept a vaccination programme.

Are employers allowed to mandate that you receive a Covid-19 vaccine before returning to a physical workplace?

There are widespread fears that it is likely that a vaccine would be used before its safety and effectiveness were 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.

UK Vaccine in the workplace

“Employers should suggest and recommend a vaccine but not mandate it, given the uncertainty over potential long-term 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 a health-care facility. This would be required more so than it would in a workplace where employees can be safely spaced apart or consider 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.

“Employers should suggest and recommend a vaccine but not mandate it, given the uncertainty over potential long-term side effects.” Ms Cullen added.

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 strategy 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.