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Should Irish employers require staff to take a COVID-19 vaccine?

By Fiona Kelleher

Now that the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is underway, businesses are assessing how the availability of a vaccine influences return to work plans.

What are an employer’s responsibilities?

Health & safety legislation imposes duties on both employers and staff around maintaining a safe place of work. To comply with their duties, many employers will want to encourage employees to take the vaccine as a way of reducing the risk of transmission in the workplace. As the law stands, this approach seems the most appropriate way for employers to incorporate the vaccine into their health & safety planning.

While employers have a duty to provide staff with a safe place of work, the legal position on requiring staff to take the vaccine is not quite so clear cut. There is currently no legal basis for employers to make a vaccine mandatory for employees. Irish citizens are protected by a broad set of personal rights under the Constitution which includes the right to refuse medical treatment.

The Government may seek to restrict constitutional rights in the interest of public health but there’s no history of mandatory vaccination programmes in Ireland to suggest this approach will be adopted.

Mandatory vaccination risks

A mandatory vaccine policy would also introduce various legal risks into the workplace. If an employee who would otherwise not have taken the vaccine suffers an adverse reaction, s/he may seek damages from their employer. Making the vaccine mandatory could also result in a deterioration in employee relations or discrimination claims on the ground of disability or religion.

With all these factors to consider, employers may find that they face a difficult balance to strike. The risk of non-compliance with health & safety legislation will need to be weighed against the risk of undermining employee relations or even personal injuries litigation.

Communicating policies to staff

The Government has forecasted that restrictions will remain in place for a number of months, even with the availability of vaccines. In the meantime, employers should consider engaging with employees and decide how to communicate their policy in relation to COVID-19 vaccination.

As mentioned above, at this early stage, encouraging staff to take COVID-19 vaccinations is a reasonable approach for employers to take as part of efforts to reduce the risks to health & safety in the workplace.

Managing the vaccine rollout in your business

Online tools such as VaccTrak will help you keep track of who’s had the COVID-19 vaccine in your business.

VaccTrak allows you to:

  • Update your employee profiles to easily record who’s had the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Download regular reports to see exactly who’s been vaccinated, so you can keep your people safe during the vaccine roll-out.
  • Download professional letter templates to encourage your staff to have the vaccine.
  • Access our exclusive vaccine awareness course. Share it with your staff to educate them on the vaccine and answer any complex questions.

Need advice on your HR issues?

For advice on any HR issue, speak to an expert now on 01 886 0350 or request a callback here.

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