The CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, has launched practical guidance for employers, to help them understand their responsibilities towards staff and support them as the vaccine rollout continues. 

There’s been much speculation over whether employers can require their employees to have the COVID-19 vaccine or could restrict them from coming into a place of work if they haven’t had the jab. The CIPD’s guidance covers: 

  • Encouraging vaccination and how to communicate this 
  • Adopting a vaccination policy 
  • Planning for employees who can’t have the vaccine and employees who may be hesitant or refuse 
  • Asking employees (and potential employees) if they have had the vaccine 

CIPD Chief Executive Peter Cheese comments: 

"The widescale vaccine rollout really is uncharted territory for employers. Many are confused as to what their role in it is, to protect their workforce, business and customers.

“The UK Government hasn’t made the vaccine compulsory so neither can employers. Nor should they be restricting people coming to work based on whether they have had the vaccine. Instead, employers – in line with official public health guidance - should consider promoting the importance of staff getting the vaccine and highlight official advice to show its safety and effectiveness. Many employers already do this in the winter months for the flu jab so will have experience of encouraging staff to look after their physical health and wellbeing in this way. 

“Firms can also make it easy for people to get the vaccine by being flexible about working hours or offering paid time-off. This will encourage take up and reinforce the message that vaccination is important and supported by the employer.   

“It’s also important to recognise that some people either can’t, or may choose not to, have the vaccine. They shouldn’t be stigmatised or disadvantaged as there may be a range of reasons why they might not want to receive it such as, a medical condition or religious belief.”  

While the arrival of the vaccine and the potential for increased workplace testing are positive measures for limiting infections, Cheese warns that employers must not rush to get employees back to the workplace: 

“It will be many months before most working age people will have received the vaccine. Where employees can continue to work from home, they should. This will help to protect staff and bring the virus under control. If people must be in the workplace, employers must continue to take all reasonable and required steps to protect their employees, regardless of how many have had the vaccine. We’re not out of the woods yet.” 

Where working from home is not possible, the CIPD is urging businesses to ensure they can meet three key tests before bringing people back to the workplace. These are: 

  • Is it essential? Can a person’s role only be done from their place of work, rather than at home? 
  • Is it sufficiently safe? Employers have a duty of care to identify and manage risks to ensure the workplace is sufficiently safe to return to. 
  • Is it mutually agreed? There must be a clear dialogue between employers and employees, so individual worries are taken into account and adjustments can be made. 

The CIPD’s new guidance Preparing for the COVID-19 vaccination: guide for employers is available now here.

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