Covid: Businesses are seeking 'no jab, no job' contracts to force employees to get vaccines - what does the law say?

  • Video report by ITV News Video Producer Natalia Jorquera

Some businesses are seeking 'no jab, no job' contracts for workers, as the vaccines minister suggested it is "up to businesses what they do".

Barchester Healthcare, which runs more than 200 care homes in the UK, has already announced all new recruits must be vaccinated against Covid-19, unless they have medical reasons not to take the jab.

And London-based Pimlico Plumbers said when vaccinations are readily available, all new workers will have to have one. Lawyer Philip Landau, whose firm Landau Law works for employees, said he has seen some employers expecting staff to agree to get the jab, or be disciplined.

It comes as vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said some companies might press ahead with their own schemes despite Boris Johnson confirming the government will not introduce domestic vaccine passports.

He told the BBC on Tuesday: “It’s up to businesses what they do, but we don’t yet have the evidence of the effect of vaccines on transmission."

Barchester Healthcare wrote on its website it is encouraging all existing staff to get the coronavirus jab, and will ensure all new staff "must have the vaccination (if they medically can) before starting work looking after our vulnerable residents and patients".

The statement, last updated on Tuesday, continues: "We have been working hard to ensure that all of our staff are aware of the facts around the vaccination, and as we have previously said we have done a lot of communication to understand and alleviate any concerns."

The care home provider told ITV News on Wednesday that one option it is considering is that staff who refuse the vaccine on non-medical grounds will not be able to work.

But it said it is still "part of an ongoing dialogue" and it is "constantly reviewing this as more information is available". It said it does not intend to discriminate against anyone, and it is aware of such concerns.

To make its care homes are safe, Barchester said it is ensuring all staff are aware of the facts around vaccination and has conducted a survey to understand any doubts.

Meanwhile, trade union UNISON has written to care minister Helen Whately calling for the government to “send a strong message to employers that putting pressure on staff to take the vaccine as a condition of their work is totally unacceptable”.

Pimlico Plumbers boss Charlie Mullins on ITV's Good Morning Britain on January 19 Credit: ITV

Pimlico Plumbers boss Charlie Mullins, told ITV’s Good Morning Britain on January 19 that he would be adapting the contracts of existing staff to say they must have the vaccine and that "99% of the company seems to be happy with it".

But an online blog later clarified it would not force anyone to get the jab.

Mr Mullins argued on Good Morning Britain: “As an employer, we have a duty and a right to look after our staff, make sure they are safe under health and safety laws. There’s no way we’re going to endanger existing staff or customers with somebody coming in who hasn’t been vaccinated.”

He added: “Obviously, there’s going to be exceptions who cannot have it, for whatever their reason may be but at the end of the day, we have to look at the overall thing, and all customers will require one that’s had a vaccine."

Mr Landau said his law firm has seen cases where employers "have sought to make it clear that they expect staff to obtain the jab otherwise they would be disciplined".He said the cases he has seen have been "sales, office and retail type roles" so far.

"Those companies open themselves up to a significant risk of a claim if they seek to enforce a 'no jab, no job' policy without a solid health and safety reason in doing so," he warned.

What the law says about employers forcing employees to get the Covid vaccine

Mr Landau explained: "Generally speaking, employers are under the duty to keep their employees and customers safe.

“Moving on from that, there’s nothing stopping employers from encouraging workers from being vaccinated, but they don’t have statutory right to force their workers to get the jab.”

He explained that it could be discrimination if employers try to enforce the jab against the wishes of the employee by making it a condition of continuing the employment. Unhappy employees could go down the constructive dismissal route.

The same applies even if there are no religious or medical grounds for the employee to refuse the jab, Mr Landau warned.

Marie Nangle, a GP from Tullamore, receives her second dose of the Moderna vaccine Credit: Brian Lawless/PA

The position is different for new employees. He said: "Employers can say: 'We want evidence that you have had the vaccine', as long as there’s no medical or religious reasons why they cannot have a jab."

He said the situation may also be different for settings such as care homes: “When you’re dealing with vulnerable patients, it could be argued that health and safety obligations are such that a jab is a necessary condition for continuing employment. The employers are in a stronger position.”

But Mr Landau warned all of this is untested.