January 2021 – In December 2020 Romania announced its official vaccination strategy against Covid-19 (the "Strategy") developed by the National Committee for the Coordination of Activities on Vaccination against SARS-CoV-2 — an inter-ministerial body directly subordinated to the General Secretariat of the government and coordinated by the prime minister.
The Strategy establishes the principles, vision and mode of action for the administration of Covid-19 vaccines in Romania and aims to ensure access to vaccination against Covid-19 under the conditions of safety, efficacy and equity.
According to the Strategy, vaccination is not mandatory. Vaccinations will be administered in three stages:
(i) in the first stage, the vaccine will be administrated mainly to personnel from the medical and social systems (e.g., physicians, personnel from nursing centres);
(ii) in the second stage, the vaccine will be administrated mainly to at-risk populations (e.g., elders over the age of 65, people with chronic diseases) and personnel performing activities in key, essential domains (e.g. parliament, government, national security);
(iii) in the third stage, the vaccine will be administrated to the general population.
The Romanian government has also launched an online platform dedicated to the vaccination campaign, where people may find information about the vaccination centres and will be able to register themselves to receive the vaccine.
As a general note, the vaccination of employees against Covid-19 is currently the subject of much debate in Romania, given that the vaccination is voluntary. Public officials have thus far not offered a straight answer in relation to the possibility of employers requiring the mandatory vaccination of employees.
At present, the main questions related to the vaccination of employees in Romania include:
Can an employer require candidates to be vaccinated as a condition of hire?
Until further governmental measures are taken and/or further clarifications are provided by the authorities, imposing vaccination as a condition of hire is not recommended, as this could trigger various claims from the applicants (mainly on discrimination grounds).
The rejected candidate (due to the unwillingness to be vaccinated) could claim that he/she was discriminated against, while, under Romanian law, any difference, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, nationality, ethnic origin, language, religion, social status, beliefs, gender, sexual orientation, age, handicap, non-contagious chronic disease, HIV positive status, belonging to a disadvantaged group or any other criterion, aiming to or resulting in a restriction or prevention of the equal recognition, use or exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social and cultural field or in any other fields of public life are specifically prohibited.
In addition, asking applicants if they have been vaccinated is not recommended. The Romanian Labour Code provides that the information required by an employer for the purposes of evaluating potential employee's skills should only have the purpose of assessing the ability of that individual to occupy the position in question, as well as their professional skills.
Can an employer require current employees to be vaccinated?
Considering that Covid-19 vaccination is voluntary and also that the right to work and fundamental freedoms are guaranteed by law, requiring employees to be vaccinated may trigger various objections from the employees not willing to be vaccinated.
At the same time, employers have an obligation to ensure the safety and health of workers in all aspects of work and to respect the general principles of prevention, avoidance and control of risks as well as the adoption, as a matter of priority, of collective protection measures.
From this perspective, the recommended approach for employers would be to encourage their employees to be vaccinated in order to protect themselves and everyone else at the workplace and, implicitly, to observe health and safety-related rules.
In addition, various employers envisage implementing measures to facilitate the access of their employees to the vaccine (e.g. compensation for the time employees spend getting vaccinated).
Some companies are exploring the idea of granting bonuses to employees who are vaccinated. From a practical perspective, it is unusual for employers to grant bonuses to employees considering non-professional criteria. Thus, under such scenario, the risk of triggering related objections from employees should also be considered.
What are the employer's options regarding those employees who refuse to be vaccinated?
The main option available in this scenario would be telework or work from home, provided that the type of the activity performed allows it. The last months have demonstrated that a great deal of work can be undertaken from home.
Potential practical impediments may be triggered in connection with employees unwilling to be vaccinated whose activity cannot be performed via telework or work from home. Further guidance is expected from the authorities on this topic in the following months, particularly for cases where work cannot be performed remotely.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.