According to new research, over half of UK workers believe that it should be made compulsory for staff to receive vaccinations against COVID-19 before employees return to work.

In a new Glassdoor survey, over half of respondents (56 per cent) felt that staff should be vaccinated against COVID-19 before a shift to hybrid working begins, seeing many employees returning back to the office for the first time in over a year.

In order to promote vaccinations amongst staff, two-fifths of workers (39 per cent) felt that a financial incentive such as a cash bonus would motivate employees to become inoculated against the virus.

Despite this, a small fraction of employees (12 per cent) stated that they were not willing to be vaccinated. However, a quarter of workers from this group said they would be more likely to if they were incentivised by an employer to do so.

According to CIPD guidance, employers have a duty to take reasonable steps to reduce any workplace risks in light of The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. This duty, the body says, provides justification for why employers may choose to encourage staff to get vaccinated against the virus.

Encouraging this could be in the form of publicising the benefits of the vaccine and providing impartial, factual information which will allow employees to make an informed decision.

The CIPD express that caution is necessary when adopting a vaccination policy due to the potential discrimination claims that can arise. In this case, the body suggests that due to the legal and financial risks of adopting a mandatory policy, engaging employees with a voluntary approach instead will build trust and encourage employees to appreciate the benefits for themselves and others.

In regards to the other areas of the survey, over two-thirds (68 per cent) of workers believe that social distancing and wearing masks should remain compulsory until everyone in the office has been vaccinated.

A further one in seven (14 per cent) stated they would quit if forced to return to the workplace before all staff were vaccinated.

However, Jayne Harrison, Head of Employment Law at Richard Nelson LLP, discusses the legal risks that could come with forcing employees to be vaccinated: 

At present, the UK government has no legal power to compel vaccinations. Similarly, employers in the United Kingdom have no statutory right to compel an employee to be vaccinated.

Employers could face challenges from employees should they try and impose vaccinations such as claims of constructive unfair dismissal or even automatic unfair dismissal should an employee claim their refusal is due to health and safety concerns. There could even be claims under the Equality Act if the employee has a valid reason for not wanting the vaccine that relates to a protected characteristic.

Even if an employer does not compel employees to get the vaccine but states that employees cannot say return to the office until they have had the vaccine, then employers still face the same risks as set out above. Until we have further guidance from the government then employers might want to tackle vaccinations in the same way they do for the flu vaccine. Giving employees information and the choice to be vaccinated should they want to.

*This research was taken from a survey of 2,000 UK employees conducted by Censuswide, on behalf of Glassdoor, between 12 – 15 February 2021.