The title of the petition is “Prohibit employers from requiring staff to be vaccinated against Covid-19”. It had received 174,365 signatures as at 20 January 2022 [9.05am] and will close on 1 May 2022. The full text is as follows:
Make it illegal for any employer to mandate vaccination for its employees. This should apply to all public sector (including the NHS, armed forces, care workers), third sector and all private sector.
We believe making vaccination a condition of employment undermines the principle of informed consent. All British people should have the right to bodily autonomy and must never be coerced into receiving a medical intervention they may not want.
Any medical intervention must always be with properly informed consent (awareness of risks vs benefits) and be free of coercion (whether explicit or implicit).
The Government response
The Government responded on 25 November 2021. It focused on the “strong public health rationale” for making vaccination a condition of deployment in limited high-risk settings and reiterated that employers proposing to require staff to be vaccinated would need to consult the “existing legal framework”.
Key questions on mandatory vaccination for staff
What is the general position in the UK?
There is no law mandating Covid-19 vaccination in the UK.
There is no general or blanket law requiring employees to be vaccinated; nor is there any general law requiring employers to mandate vaccination of their staff.
There is no general law prohibiting employers from mandating vaccination for their staff, but there are some laws that would apply to this approach, including employment law and equality law. This is discussed further below.
The UK Government is encouraging vaccination as the best defence against Covid-19 and asks employers to encourage staff to get vaccinated.
Are there any specific workplaces where vaccination is mandatory?
There are some specific workplace settings where the Government has legislated to mandate vaccination.
There is a legal requirement for employers to ensure staff entering care homes in England are vaccinated.
From April 2022 employers will need to ensure that all frontline health and care workers in England are vaccinated.
Can employers require staff to be vaccinated?
An employer’s policies must be lawful and must not discriminate.
Within the existing legal framework, it is for individual employers to decide whether to ask staff to show their vaccination status. In the absence of a legal requirement for vaccination, an employer cannot force an employee to be vaccinated without their consent. However, they could (for example) decide to implement policies which restrict unvaccinated employees’ duties or prevent unvaccinated employees from entering the workplace.
There are certain legal constraints on what employers can do:
- Employment law: If an employer disciplines or dismisses staff who refuse to be vaccinated they may face a claim for unfair dismissal.
- Equality law: The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination in work and the provision of services. If a business restricts work or services to those who are vaccinated, they may face a claim for indirect discrimination.
- Human rights law: The Human Rights Act 1998 primarily binds the state. However, courts are required to interpret all legislation compatibly with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), including in disputes between private parties. Courts can make declarations of incompatibility if primary legislation does not comply with the ECHR and can strike down secondary legislation. Public bodies must also comply with the ECHR.
- Data protection law: Businesses that collect data on the vaccination status of staff or customers will need to show that it is necessary and relevant for a specific purpose. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has published guidance on vaccination and Covid-status checks.