No jab no job? Why UK employers must think carefully on monitoring COVID vaccinations for employees

COVID vaccinations for employees

Managing COVID vaccinations for employees has suddenly become a big news story in the US. Google, Facebook and Netflix are among the first employers to say that they will require workers to prove double vaccination against COVID before they return to work. This is due to the rapid rise of the Delta variant in America.  

In the UK, it has led to lurid ‘No Jab, No Job’ headlines.

It is raising fears among some workers that their employer may make a similar announcement at any moment. Unions and lawyers have voiced concern and warned of a deluge of potential employment tribunals if employers get this wrong. 

The tighter legislative frameworks of UK employment make mandating jabs highly unlikely as a general policy, despite some support from Ministers.

However, it raises an important question. How can employers effectively monitor vaccination status among employees?  

It is inevitable that employers will want some visibility of their workforce vaccination status. Setting aside any ethical and legal considerations, it presents yet another huge practical challenge. Employers must think carefully about monitoring COVID vaccinations for employees. 

Practical COVID management challenges for employers 

Empactis anticipated some of the many practical challenges of COVID early in the pandemic. We adapted our employee health management system not just to identify and manage COVID-related absences, but to connect them to testing management and the capture and tracking of test results. We continued development to meet emerging needs, such as individual COVID risk assessments for returning workers, and for the approaching need to track COVID vaccination status for employees. 

Today, the need to understand the COVID vaccination status of staff is emerging for many employers. The NHS is foremost among them, and Empactis has been helping Trusts with this issue. 

All employers face, and want, the return of many more workers in the coming months.  The isolation wave that is accompanying a rise in cases (sometimes termed ‘pingdemic’) has caused a delay. Recent NHS app changes and the further changes to isolation due on 16th August mean that this return challenge is approaching fast.

Many questions are being asked in Britain’s boardrooms. 

Can employers force employees to have a COVID vaccination? 

In most cases, they cannot. Although the Government has announced that employee vaccinations will be mandatory for some healthcare roles, including those in care homes overseen by the Care Quality Commission, there is currently no law that says anyone must have a vaccine.  

“Employers should support staff in getting the COVID-19 vaccine once it’s offered to them. There’s currently no law that says people must have the vaccine, even if an employer would prefer someone to have it.” ACAS 

Can employers use the NHS COVID Pass for staff? 

Employers can theoretically utilise the NHS COVID Pass, in a similar way as large event organisers do for attendees. However, they cannot enforce its use and the Government has not yet advised employers to use it. There may be several issues involved. It may be deemed to discriminate against those who are not yet able, or do not want, to be vaccinated. It could also raise issues of data privacy and security. Tracking any individual employee health or case data outside an appropriate platform with the right safeguards and access controls in place is unwise. 

How can employers support COVID vaccinations for staff? 

The Government’s current and strong advice to employers is simply to support their staff in getting the COVID vaccination. You can find their full advice at the COVID19 Vaccination: Guide for Employers  

It highlights various things employers can do, including sharing accurate facts and information and demonstrating senior leadership support for vaccinations. It suggests appointing vaccination ‘champions’ and giving time off during working time for vaccination appointments or visits to nearby vaccine drop-in centres.  

How can employers help manage the COVID risk of returning workers? 

Employers who are unwilling to force returns are adopting policies that emphasis flexibility and choice. Providing confidence for returning staff is a critical component. This can only come from real care and attention to COVID risks, and good engagement with staff.  Firms can support this in many ways, such as: 

  • Employers must revisit and refresh COVID workplace risk assessments. They must also evaluate individual risks as people return, and track and manage these risk assessments. 
  • Empower and inform managers so they can engage around health and COVID as staff return. Make it easy to engage with occupational health support when needed.
  • Encourage and make it effortless to self-declare their vaccination status. Then executives can make workforce decisions informed by understanding of immunity levels.
  • Institute and maintain good health surveillance practices with appropriate platforms. These must track, manage and remind managers when it is time for routine risk or health assessments. 
  • Improving occupational health services and support, then educating managers on what is available and how to refer staff for help. This is always important and will be particularly important for staff with long COVID. UK firms can expect a significant number of such cases.  

A few final words 

The best possible advice we can give employers is to invest their efforts into ensuring two things.

First, that they have the clear and appropriate visibility of the health of their employees.

Secondly , to build the culture, processes, policies and practical capabilities for managing workforce health proactively now and in the future.   

The Empactis system can deliver huge practical support to track, connect, manage and maintain visibility of health, and can help processes and policies deliver value. Good leadership of, and commitment to, employee health is equally vital and a determinant of success.

Learn how Empactis Health Manager enables employers to monitor and manage COVID vaccination status among employees, as well as connected challenges such as tracking and managing COVID risk assessments, lateral flow and PCR test results, and COVID-connected absences.