The founder of Pimlico Plumbers has said he plans to introduce a “no vaccine, no job” policy, compelling workers to be inoculated against the coronavirus. Chairman Charlie Mullins compared getting the jab to getting vaccinated for travel abroad, and said the company was looking at drafting new contracts introducing the measure.
What’s the legal position? Is it legal for a company to force its staff to get the Covid-19 vaccine?
There’s two view points.
Firstly, some people have, like Mullins, suggested that getting vaccinated while going abroad is a given and often a stipulation. In the same vein (excuse the pun), they say that wearing personal protection equipment, PPE, say on Building Sites, is mandatory to protect workers on grounds of health and safety and for insurance reasons, so why would covid be any different.
Others share similar views to me, which is that forcing vaccinations is not something which even the UK Government can (presently) do and therefore there is a real risk of grievances and ultimately employment tribunal claims against the company if they take disciplinary action under their apparent new policy.
The UK Government has said that it does not plan to introduce a mandatory vaccine, but will of course encourage everyone to have it. In England & Wales, the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1985 gives the Government powers to prevent, control or safeguard against the incidence or spread of infections, such as coronavirus. However, that legislation specifically provides that a person must not be required “to undergo medical treatment” which includes “vaccination and other prophylactics’ treatment”. The more recent Coronavirus Act 2020 extends the prohibition to Scotland and Northern Ireland.
As the UK Government does not have the legal power to enforce vaccinations, it would seem unlikely that employers would be able to compel its employees or workers to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
I guess some businesses may argue that compelling vaccinations is justified by the business needs – such as healthcare and frontline workers.
Most employment lawyers tend to think that a mandatory policy could lead to claims.
The Equality Act 2020 protects certain characteristics, such as religion or philosophical belief. Religious groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses have been known to reject medical treatment because of their faith. Indeed some Christians may consider that the use of cell lines from an aborted fetus in the Oxford Astrazenica vaccine could be a step too far for their beliefs. It may be possible to argue therefore that a policy to compel vaccines is against their religious belief.
There’s a small potential that the “anti-vaxxer” movement could even be considered a “philosophical belief” protected by the Equality Act. I mean, last year and employment tribunal held that “ethical veganism” was a philosophical belief warranting protection.
There is also a Human Rights Issue to all of this, and its likely that will be the trump card in it all; Article 5 right to liberty and Article 8 the right to respect for family and private life come in to play.
My view, then, for now at least, is that employers should probably not follow suit and adopt a mandatory vaccine policy as it is likely to cause more employment-related issues.
I can’t help but think this story was not much more than some PR for Pimlico Plumbers, but there you go.
What about mask wearing? Can an employer force employees to wear masks?
I’ve had a number of enquiries from people about this, and my answer is yes – yes they can, as it is currently a legal requirement to wear a mask in certain places under the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings in a Public Place) Regulations.