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Covid vaccine passports: What would they mean for businesses 

Published: Thursday 11th March 2021

Zoek has recently run a LinkedIn poll, and asked our community if vaccine passports should be needed to go on holiday, visit a pub or get a job? The results revealed that a whopping 53% of participants answered ‘YES’, with 47% saying ‘NO’. In the light of these results and the one-year anniversary of WHO’s declaration of the pandemic  around the corner, we look into what covid vaccine passports would mean for businesses and employers. 

Could covid vaccine passports signal the ‘beginning of the end’ for social restrictions?

The short, theoretical answer is, yes. Covid vaccine passports could signal the ‘beginning of the end’ for social restrictions caused by COVID-19. The vaccine will offer employers the opportunity to bring employees back to the workplace and ultimately should mean social distancing and other safety measures can be reduced, and removed. But of course, the rollout and use of the vaccine presents many logistical and ethical challenges and raises a number of novel issues that employers will need to address with care.

The Government’s announcements 

After initially dismissing the idea of a “Covid status certification”, the UK, like many other governments, is now considering whether some kind of proof of vaccination should be used to restore normal economic life. Consequently, Boris Johnson announced that Michael Gove will be leading and conducting a lengthy review into the matter. 

The underlying reasons for this review are that the government thinks a vaccine certification could be useful not only for international travel but also in fully reopening the economy. Furthermore, the UK government acknowledges the public’s concern. So, adopting such a system will come down to whether the public accepts the tradeoff of more government control for more freedom. A fine line between ethical practices and public health goals. Therefore, there are a number of practical, legal, and ethical considerations that have to be well-thought through. 

Covid vaccine passports, nurse is vaccinating a woman.

Employers’ health and safety duties and the covid vaccine passports

Employers have a general duty to ensure the health and safety of all their employees in the workplace. This means they will need to consider how the availability of a vaccine impacts this duty over the coming months. 

For the time being, it is too early to say how having a partially-vaccinated workforce will affect an organisation’s COVID-19 risk assessment and its effort in controlling or reducing transmission. The extent to which the vaccination will prevent the vaccinated person from transmitting the virus to those that haven’t had the vaccine will also be important. Moreover, another point to reflect upon, is whether an employer will be under a duty to offer the vaccine if it becomes available privately.

Can employers require employees to get covid vaccine passports?

Requiring an entire workforce to get covid vaccine passports will be difficult to achieve from both a legal and employee-relations perspective. The government is not currently introducing legislation to make the vaccination compulsory and therefore it will be for individuals to decide whether to or not to have it.

Without any statutory obligation to make vaccination compulsory, employers supporting this route will need to look to other means, such as an introduction of specific provisions in the contract of employment. However, this sets another gray area for potential discrimination issues to arise if there is no flexibility from employers. For instance, what if a person has not been vaccinated for reasons of health or of religious belief?

What can employers do if vaccinations aren’t compulsory?

It is likely that each employer’s approach on covid vaccine passports will change as people’s concerns of having it diminish over time. In these early stages, however, employers could conduct audits to see which roles can continue from home and which can continue with Covid-secure arrangements in place. Furthermore, and in the same way, employers can identify whether there are any roles that might reasonably require and justify vaccinations in order to be able to perform them safely. 

The next step is to identify what you will ask of employees in each of those groups. Potential pitfalls to avoid could be encouraging people not to have the vaccine in order to be able to keep working from home. Or even putting vaccinated employees to a disadvantage compared to unvaccinated staff through the burden of additional duties. Moreover, your company should set legal and fair policies in order to deal ethically with those employees who are refusing to or cannot have the vaccine vaccinated. 

Covid-19 vaccines, covid vaccine passports

Internal communication strategies will be key

Communicating internally with transparency will be key in dealing with any covid vaccine passport issues that may arise. Establish internal campaigns to engage effectively with your workforce. Consult with employee representatives and trade unions as well as with employees themselves. Provide unbiased information about the vaccine from credible sources. Set appointments with independent medical advisers and give your employees the chance to express and discuss their concerns. to discuss any concerns they might have with an independent medical adviser.

What if employees do not want or cannot be vaccinated

There will be employees who are unable or unwilling to have the vaccine for different reasons, ranging from medical conditions and religious reasons to philosophical beliefs. Taking disciplinary actions in such cases is not advised and could set a big risk. Considering alternative options and approaches are encouraged to be in line with the Governments’ guidance. 

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