While the country anticipates the roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccine, albeit slower than many of us had hoped, it’s a good time to consider how this will impact your workforce? There is no simple answer for the moment and a level of patience and compassion will be required to support employees.
As it stands, the Minister of Health has indicated that the Covid-19 vaccine will not be obligatory and there is currently no law which requires persons to be vaccinated. So what does this mean for your business and employees? What about the employees who want peace of mind that everyone around them has been vaccinated? What about the employees who refuse to come back to work pending a full house of vaccines?
There remains a lot of uncertainty and strong opinions around this issue and a catch 22 for employers on what to do. While the National Health Act stipulates that an individual must give consent for medical treatment, the Occupational Health and Safety act requires employers to create a safe working environment for all employees and to do what is reasonably practical to ensure this. So with that said, what is the solve?
Case by case
For the moment, each situation ought to be reviewed on its own merits and on a case-by-case basis. A level of empathy and patience is required to understand why the employee does not want to take the vaccine. If an employee refuses, and they have a valid reason for doing so, then the employer must do their best to accommodate the employee as far as possible especially if it is feasible for the employee to continue working remotely
As an employer you have an opportunity to dispel myths and educate employees on the benefits of the vaccine and encourage them to be vaccinated.
Exhaust all options
If an employee does not have a valid reason, cannot work remotely and is causing anxiety and discomfort for other employees, then the employer must explore all other alternatives first before taking further action. Can the employer rotate shifts to ensure that those who have been vaccinated feel less at risk or make changes to the office layout to accommodate the situation? All reasonable alternatives must be considered.
Termination of the employee’s services must be considered as a last resort and only after all reasonable work arounds have been considered and offered. To complicate the situation further, we are in the early stages of the vaccine roll-out with no recent case law to set precedent meaning every case will have to be judged on its merits as to what is justifiable and reasonable.
Given the uncertainty and angst around the roll-out of the vaccine, it is recommended that companies develop a policy outline to address the different questions and scenarios. This policy should address everything from questions around the vaccine cost in the event the employee feels that cost is a factor to how to respect employee privacy issues around vaccination
Once again we find ourselves in unchartered territory on how to best support our employees as we navigate the next phase of the Covid-19 pandemic
To ensure your business strikes the delicate balance necessary to navigate and respond to this question appropriately, you will need a full appreciation of the legal and other factors at play in their workplaces. For questions or support, please don’t hesitate to contact HR Studio.