Workers have limited rights to request paid leave.

As of 12 September 2021 89.2% of the UK's population aged 18 or over had had at least the first dose of an authorised vaccine, with that number dropping to 82.5% for those aged 18 or over with two doses of vaccine. This means that there is still a significant portion of the UK working population who have either not been vaccinated or not yet received both doses, whether through vaccine hesitancy, medical exemption, or otherwise.

As of 11 November 2021 the only group of workers who must be vaccinated to perform their jobs (or have a medical exemption) are those working in CQC registered care homes.  The government is currently consulting on making vaccines mandatory for all frontline health and care staff. Currently, government guidance for employers on working safely during coronavirus only goes so far as to encourage the wearing of masks, washing hands regularly and the use of outdoor and well ventilated spaces, where available, but does not suggest encouraging staff to get vaccinated. Many employers are however taking steps to encourage and enable staff vaccination as part of their Covid risk mitigation measures and in line with Public Health England guidance for employers on Covid vaccination.

Workers and employees do not have a specific right under statute to take paid time off for medical appointments (unless the worker is pregnant and attending antenatal appointments). In some cases, there may be a contractual right to take time off for such appointments but often this will be left to the discretion of the employer – there is no specific statutory right to this.

However, it is important to note that whilst there is no obligation to pay staff to attend medical appointments during work hours, employers should think carefully before taking disciplinary action against staff members for doing so, particularly as this may have discrimination claim implications. Employers should also bear in mind that paid time to attend medical appointments may be a reasonable adjustment for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010 where individuals have or are likely to have a disability for the purposes of the Act.

What does this mean for employers?

ACAS guidance suggest that employers should support staff to get the vaccine once it is offered to them. However, a recent ACAS study found that 25% of British employers have not been giving staff paid time off for covid vaccinations and that the same percentage had not been paying staff sick pay for staff who were off work due to vaccine side effects.

Ultimately, it is for employers to decide if they will pay staff for time they take off to get vaccinated and for any associated time off needed due to side-effects to pass and for employers to determine whether more staff being vaccinated is beneficial for their staff when factored into workplace risk assessments.

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.