No jab, no job – can businesses force employees to have the Covid vaccine?

Joan Pettingill Joan Pettingill 19 February 2021

At the latest count the NHS has delivered 15 million vaccinations as its nationwide programme now focusses on people over-65.

While some in this age group are retired, or looking at retirement soon, what rights do employers have about making the jab compulsory for employees as bosses attempt to get their businesses back on track?

Joan Pettingill, director of employment law and head of HR services at Wake Smith Solicitors looks at whether businesses can force their staff to get the jab, as deaths from the virus tip the 110,000 mark in the UK.

“As the law stands, individuals cannot be forced to have a vaccination. The Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 says members of the public should not be compelled to undergo any mandatory medical treatment, including vaccinations.

“As the debate around mandatory vaccinations rears its head, essentially, the risk for employers’ insisting on staff having the vaccine, centres around discrimination claims.

“Any Government-led compulsory vaccination programme could bring objections about individual liberty and human rights. Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights protects people from being interfered with physically or psychologically and includes mandatory vaccinations.”

Potential legal issues around vaccinations for work include:

If a thorough medical examination clause appears in a contract of employment, it could be relied upon. However, this is fraught with risk, and freely given consent is required for any medical intervention.

Forcing anyone to receive a vaccine injection under duress, under UK law, could constitute an unlawful injury. A vaccination requires an individual’s informed and voluntary consent.

An anti-vaxxers’ stance could amount to a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010 if their belief was established to be genuinely held and worthy of respect, then they may find success at a tribunal.

This act also protects religious discrimination - many vaccines use pig gelatine, raising problems for several religious groups, and vegans.

If an employee’s refusal to be vaccinated due to a disability/protected religious/philosophical belief, results in disciplinary action from their employer, they may be able to issue a direct or indirect discrimination claim, and claim constructive unfair dismissal if they resign in protest.

Employers do have a duty to ensure a safe working environment under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Therefore, requiring a care home employee to be vaccinated, and disciplining them if they refuse, could be argued as reasonable because of the high-risk nature of the work, ultimately justifying dismissal or disciplinary action.

Joan added: “Some bosses are now saying a compulsory workplace vaccination would avoid further lockdowns and help the economy get back up and running again; that they are happy to pay for their staff to have the jab privately if possible, and will rewrite employee contracts to include a “No Jab, No Job” policy for new staff.”

Joan concludes: “This is an interesting debate. The consequences for the economy and society, with three national lockdowns, have certainly had negative mental, physical and financial up shots. However, the priority for organisations must be to keep people, including staff and customers, as safe as possible.

“An alternative way forwards for business would be to help employees to make informed choices about the vaccine by sharing impartial, factual information.”

For further information or advice on our upcoming free employment law update on 17 March, training packages and any employment law matters contact Joan Pettingill at Wake Smith Solicitors at [email protected] or call 0114 224 2087.

To sign up for Wake Smith’s WorkSense employment law and HR updates click here.



March 20212February 20218January 20219December 20208November 202014October 20209September 20208August 20203July 20208June 202016May 202013April 20209March 202016February 20209January 202012December 20199November 20199October 201911September 20197August 20194July 20196May 20198April 20196March 20193February 20195January 20194December 20186November 20185October 20183September 20185August 20184July 20189June 20184May 201810April 20185March 20184February 20184January 20183December 20175November 20178October 20177September 20179August 20175July 20176June 201710May 20176April 20178March 201711February 20177January 201713December 20169November 20167October 201610September 201611August 20166July 20167June 20163May 20162April 20166March 20162February 20164January 20165December 20153November 20155October 20156September 20156August 20157July 20157June 20157May 20156April 201510March 20156February 201510January 20156December 20145November 20144October 20142September 20143May 20144March 20146February 20144January 20142December 20132November 20133September 20134July 20132June 20132May 20133April 20131March 20133February 20133January 20136December 20121November 20123October 20122August 20122July 20128June 20123April 20123March 20121January 20124December 20112November 20111October 20112September 20113August 20113July 20117June 20119May 20117April 20115March 20119February 20118January 20111December 20101October 20102September 20102August 20103July 20106June 20101May 20102April 20106March 20102February 20103January 20102December 20095November 20092October 20092September 20092August 20091July 20095June 20095May 20093April 20093March 20093February 20091January 20092November 20082October 20082September 20081August 20083July 20081January 20082

Featured Articles

Contact us