Now that more employees have been returning to the workplace, employers face several potentially challenging issues. Vaccination is one of the most problematic – businesses may wish to insist on employees being vaccinated, but there is concern that such policies could leave employers open to a legal claim of unfair dismissal or discrimination.
Reluctance to return
If workers feel they are not able to return to the workplace, this cannot be treated as a redundancy situation because the employee’s job still exists. Where an employee has been successfully working from home, it will be quite difficult for the employer to then reject a request to make home or flexible working permanent. Developing a clear and sustainable hybrid working model, where suitable for the position, may be the sensible way forward.
Over the last 18 months most businesses have already invested in safeguarding measures for employees – from additional sanitising precautions to barriers in the workplace between desks and workstations. As more people return, additional measures may be required, including testing.
There is no reason why an employer cannot implement a policy requiring regular Covid-19 testing as a condition for workplace attendance. This could be achieved by:
- the employer buying tests and setting up workplace testing;
- paying an approved provider; or
- asking employees to arrange their own testing.
Employers should draw up a clear plan on how positive test results are to be managed. Other issues to iron out may be around how testing will apply to everyone attending the workplace, such as visitors, or only employees.
Insisting on employees being vaccinated as a condition of workplace attendance is a more contentious issue, especially if it’s just one or two employees who are opposed to immunisation. UK employment rights mean that employers are expected to tread carefully.
Although there is no legal reason why an employer cannot adopt a full vaccination policy, this is a risky approach to take. Along with potential legal claims, it could also mean the resignation of key personnel. A more practical approach is for employers to encourage employees to get vaccinated support this by offering time off during working hours to do so and where possible discuss concerns. Homeworking might be the easiest way to deal with the issue of an employee who does not wish to be vaccinated and handling their colleagues’ expectations.
The employment service Acas has produced a guide to workplace testing for Covid-19.