Can an employer require employees to have a coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination?

Employers have a duty to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of their employees. Asking employees to agree to a vaccination against coronavirus (COVID-19) is likely to be a reasonable step to take to reduce the risk to employees' health. Vaccinations are not available for employers to buy privately to provide for their employees, but employers can encourage employees to take up the vaccine when they are eligible under the national programme.

However, if employees do not agree to a vaccine, employers are limited in what they can do, beyond encouraging take up. An employer could consider informing employees that refusing a vaccination could lead to disciplinary action. There is a risk that such a policy could cause employee relations problems, as employees may feel strongly that this should be a personal decision. It would also raise a number of legal issues, with a particular risk of complaints relating to discrimination on grounds of religion or belief, disability and age; constructive dismissal; and human rights issues. Employers should be aware that employees may have a medical reason for not getting the vaccination.

It is currently unlikely that an employer would be able to use health and safety grounds to justify taking disciplinary action against an employee for refusing a vaccine, particularly in the early stages of the vaccination programme. This may change over time, when more is known about the effects of the vaccination programme, but there is still likely to be a very high threshold to meet to justify such a policy. It may be possible in exceptionally high-risk circumstances, where alternative measures have been taken into consideration and where the policy accounts for the particular circumstances of individual employees.