Mandatory Covid vaccines: What are my rights? Can I be fired if I don't take the jab?

Credit: PA

By Digital Content Producer Kat Clementine

With almost 42 million people in the UK having received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, the rollout programme is well under way.

But not everyone who is eligible has taken up the offer of a jab, for various reasons.

Now, care home staff will be required to have Covid-19 vaccinations “to protect residents” - and making jabs compulsory for people in the NHS is also being considered.

Ministers have held a consultation into the controversial proposal as a measure to protect the most vulnerable from contracting Covid.

Credit: PA

And Pimlico Plumbers announced it too would require mandatory vaccination for staff, with the company having already said it would not hire anybody new who was not vaccinated.

So what does this mean for employees and could employers legally dismiss staff who choose not to have the vaccine?

How are care home staff reacting to the decision?

Some care home staff have already signalled their intention to resign following reports that the government will soon make it mandatory for them to have the Covid-19 vaccine.

"The decision is also likely to be open to challenge," says Charlotte Farrell , an Associate at Paris Smith Solicitors.

"I know several human rights groups have already taken up this point and the care industry also tends to be heavily unionised and I expect the trade unions will take it up on their members behalf."Ms Farrell also warns of an employment crisis for the care sector - which has already been hit by the impact of the recent outcome of the case on sleep in shifts which limited the pay workers can receive during these shifts.

"Many care workers have struggled through the pandemic and worked above and beyond and if this change is made, it could result in several employees leaving the sector at a time when the sector needs staff more than ever."

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Can my employer fire me if I don't take the vaccine?It depends on whether or not the government requirement is approved. It's currently subject to parliamentary approval and a 16-week grace period.

Alison Weatherhead, employment partner at Dentons, said: " If the government make this mandatory for public health reasons, then employers will have to comply with the requirement – in the same way they have to meet any other government requirements based on public health or otherwise."The only exception to this, Ms Weatherhead explains, is where someone has a medical exemption. "Where an employee refuses to have a vaccine, a dismissal will be fair, assuming that a fair process is carried out in the usual way."

Libby Payne, a Senior Associate for the UK employment team at Withers LLP , warns that all unvaccinated workers in affected roles will need to carefully consider whether they will have the vaccine.

She said: "If they don't, and they do not have a medical exemption, they will not be able to carry on in that particular role.

"Given the mandatory nature of the vaccine, if terminated, employees may not have any claim against the employer unless they can argue that they were entitled to be given an alternative role."

A care worker receives their vaccine. Credit: PA

Can I claim unfair dismissal?

Yes - there could still be a case for unfair dismissal.

"Any employer would still need to act reasonably in treating non-vaccination as a reason to terminate employment," said Susan Harris, Director of Legal Services at GMB.

"That employer would still be obliged to look for alternative work for the employee to undertake - and that's just in respect of an employee who has no protected characteristic reason for refusing to be vaccinated. Article 8 (right to respect for private life) of the European Convention on Human Rights will also come into play."

Pregnant people could have a claim for unfair dismissal. Credit: PA Images

What if I have a reason for not wanting the jab?

An employee who refuses to take the vaccine due to a religious belief may have a freestanding discrimination claim, if their employment was to be terminated.

Ms Harris added: "Equally a woman who is concerned about taking the vaccine because either they are pregnant, are breastfeeding or are concerned about fertility issues arising from having the vaccine could have a discrimination claim.

"The right to bring a claim in those circumstances would also apply to those who are refused employment because they have not been vaccinated."

Can employers go ahead and fire people straight away?

No. Employers should not act on this information until the law has actually changed, warns Ms Farrell , at Paris Smith Solicitors.

She said: "It is just a proposal at the moment. Until that point the position hasn’t changed and any dismissal would need to be justifiable under the current rules - i.e. at the moment to dismiss someone fairly an employer has to have a potentially fair reason and follow a fair process.

"Dismissal should always be the last resort in any situation and particularly here, where there may be other roles which could be used instead."

Is there a better incentive to get employees to take the jab?

Worker's union GMB recommends educating and reassuring employees instead of forcing people to take the jab.

"When the value of being vaccinated is explained cogently to employees, people get the message" says Legal Services Director Susan Harris.

"When people are allowed paid time off to get their jab then take up is good; where employers pay full sick pay so that anyone experiencing a reaction to the jab knows they won't lose wages if they have to take time off- then take up improves."