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Are employees entitled to time off work to get the Covid-19 vaccine?

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The United Kingdom’s vaccine roll-out continues to make progress, with more than 11 million people having received their first jab so far. While many employers may be eager to have their workforce vaccinated, some may be wondering whether they are required to provide time off work for employees’ vaccine appointments, and, if they do, whether this time must be paid.  Our Employment Law team review this situation here, explaining the rights of your employees, whether allowing time off could be considered making a reasonable adjustment and your duty regarding health and safety. 

Contractual rights for time off

There is no legal obligation on employers to grant employees any time off for medical appointments. However, an employee’s contract of employment may contain additional rights to time off which go beyond what is legally required. You should therefore check your employees’ contracts of employment and your company policies to see if these documents give your employee the right to time off for medical appointments, and whether such time off will be paid.

You should also be aware that allowing time off for vaccination may be required under the implied term of trust and confidence. This term applies to every contract of employment, and it places an obligation on both parties not to act in a way that would “destroy or seriously damage the relationship.” It is possible that a tribunal may consider that refusing to allow an employee to take time off work to be vaccinated during a pandemic is conduct serious enough to meet this standard. If that is the case then provided the employee had more than 2 years’ service (and therefore was eligible to claim) they would be able to resign and claim they had been constructively dismissed.

Health and safety at work

As an employer, you have a duty to take all reasonable steps to reduce the risks to health and safety in your workplace. Clearly, the risk of transmission of the Covid-19 virus presents a serious risk to the health and safety of your employees, especially in high-risk workplaces such as retail stores. You may therefore have a responsibility, as an employer, to promote vaccination within your workforce and to allow employees time off to be vaccinated. This is particularly so if you are regulated by the Care Quality Commission and have a duty to prevent the spread of infection within your care sector workplace.

Reasonable adjustments and the Equality Act 2010

Employees who are clinically extremely vulnerable may be classified as disabled under the Equality Act 2010, and therefore entitled to reasonable adjustments from their employer. Allowing time off to receive the vaccine may qualify as a reasonable adjustment. If that is the case, failing to provide time off to be vaccinated could leave you open to a claim for disability discrimination.

Reputational risks of refusing

As mentioned above, refusing to allow an employee to take time off work to get vaccinated may, in some circumstances, leave you open to a tribunal claim. However, the greater risk to your business may be the reputational damage which could occur if the public learns that you have refused to allow employees time off to get vaccinated. Many people regard the vaccine as the pathway back to normality and a refusal to grant any time off may be seen as a selfish decision by a business that puts profit over the health of its employees. Refusing to grant time off could also hurt your relationship with your employees and lower employee morale.

If an employee is given a vaccination appointment during working hours you may be able to ask them to reschedule. However, this should only be done if you absolutely cannot spare them as rescheduling a vaccination appointment adds to the administrative burden on the NHS and it may be some time before another vaccine appointment is available.

Many employers will likely find that it is worth granting employees a few hours off work to get the vaccine in order to help with the national immunisation effort and help get the country back to some form of normality. You may even consider paying for the time employees spend at their vaccine appointment in order to incentivise employees to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

To stay up to date with the latest Government announcements on employee rights and employer obligations regarding the vaccine, you may be interested in Peace of Mind membership.  Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, our members have been notified after each announcement with useful guidance as to how to implement any changes in their workplace, along with Template Letters to use with their employees.  You can find out more about Peace of Mind by calling Martin Giles on 07973 654447 or emailing martingiles@warnergoodman.co.uk, alternatively to discuss any employment law query with a member of the team, call 023 8071 7717 or email employment@warnergoodman.co.uk.

To receive regular Employment Law updates from the team regarding recent tribunal cases and legislation updates, you can subscribe to our weekly Employment Law Newsletter by completing our subscription form or emailing us at events@warnergoodman.co.uk

You may also be interested in the following articles regarding the Covid-19 vaccine:

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.