The UK vaccination program is well underway and, as the hospitality and leisure sector prepares to reopen fully, a question is being asked around how best to protect employees and consumers. Although the vaccination provides a universal level of protection, requiring employees to take it can be risky.

Hospitality leaders will be faced with the decision of whether to implement a compulsory vaccination policy as they aim to reopen safely. Therefore, what should businesses be thinking about this approach consider?

Implementing a compulsory vaccination policy

Although current guidance does not support mandatory vaccination, it is within a company's right to choose to implement a strict policy that makes vaccines compulsory for all and imposes sanctions on those who refuse. However, assuming the sanction is ultimately dismissal, this will inevitably lead to employment tribunal claims.

For job roles that cannot be undertaken safely without a vaccine, there may be a legitimate argument for compulsory vaccinations. However, in sectors like hospitality and leisure, this is unlikely to be the case.

The risk is lower for employers planning on making vaccination compulsory just for new recruits, because there is no unfair dismissal risk.  However, discrimination protection does extend to job applicants, so there are still risks if the reason for the refusal is linked to a protected characteristic.

Refusing the vaccine

If an employee refuses the vaccine, the first course of action should be to attempt to understand their reasoning.

There are a number of reasons people may choose not to have the vaccine, for example, such as pregnancy or religion, so it is vital to tread carefully to avoid accusations of discrimination. It is also important that these worries are not dismissed, and confidentiality is maintained.

Should the business choose to impose sanctions on employees who refuse to have the vaccine, it is highly likely that claims will follow. Therefore seeking legal employment advice at an early stage will help companies understand the full extent of the risk around unfair dismissal claims and discrimination claims.

Understanding other options

Employees should be encouraged and informed about the vaccine, but it is important to avoid undue pressure if you aren't planning on making vaccination compulsory.

Although generally not possible for the hospitality and leisure sector, businesses can also ask employees to work from home for longer, or look at changing responsibilities to put hesitant employees in roles with less public interaction to lower the risk of transmission.

Regardless of the approach, all employers should put a vaccine policy in place as this will help to protect and guide future business planning. It also gives employees an overview of the company stance on vaccines and an outline of the processes in place as we navigate this 'new abnormal'.

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.