New employment contracts may require the worker to have been vaccinated against Covid-19 in order for them to take up their role, the justice secretary has said.
Speaking on ITV's Peston, Robert Buckland said it is unlikely employers will be able to insist workers must have vaccines under existing contracts, but suggested it may be possible in new contracts.
He said: "Generally speaking I’d be surprised if there were contracts of employment existing now that did make that approach lawful.
"I think frankly the issue would have to be tested.
"I can see that in particular work environments the desirability of having a vaccine is going to be higher than in others.”
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Asked if it is up to employers to test the system and if they would not want people who decline vaccines working for them, Mr Buckland said: “I think that has to be the case because we’re dealing with existing terms of contracts of employment, thousands of existing contracts.”
Mr Buckland also said it would be up to pubs and restaurants if they wanted to make vaccines a requirement for entry but said he did not support a government led vaccine passport system.
Shadow Communities Minister Naz Shah responded to Mr Buckland's comments on Peston by saying the government was "abdicating its responsibility".
She said: "You can't just say to businesses 'look at your employment law contract' and not leading from the front".
She added: "People are looking at the government for guidance and the government is again failing to provide guidance."
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said on Wednesday 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."
One of the UK’s largest care home providers has already said it is considering whether staff who have refused a vaccine for non-medical reasons can continue in roles where they are in contact with residents.
Barchester Healthcare, which runs more than 200 care homes, said it is considering an option where staff make themselves “unavailable for work” in resident/patient-facing roles “by reason of their own decision” on not getting vaccinated.
The group had previously announced that it would not hire new staff if they had not had the vaccine for non-medical reasons, citing the vulnerability of its residents and patients.
London-based Pimlico Plumbers said when vaccinations are readily available, all new workers will have to have one.
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.”
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.
The government is encouraging everyone to have a vaccine but is not making it mandatory.
Downing Street has previously said that forcing an employee to have a coronavirus vaccine would be “discriminatory”.
The 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”.