No Jab, No Job?: Plumbing firm considers vaccine requirement for new hires

February 7, 2021

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2 min read

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What's going on here?

UK plumbing firm Pimlico Plumbers is considering modifying its employment contracts to include a requirement that all new hires have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

What does this mean?

Charlie Mullins, the firm’s founder and chairman, is the driving force behind the policy. The multi-millionaire is even willing to finance the inoculations himself if they become privately available: “Whatever it costs, I will pay. I would pay £1m tomorrow to safeguard our staff”. In addition to requiring individuals to be vaccinated before they can begin working for the firm, Mullins plans to modify existing staff members’ contracts to encourage them to get vaccinated, although he has insisted that no one would be fired for refusing.

What's the big picture effect?

This story highlights an important legal question that employers will have to grapple with in the coming months: can they force employees to get vaccinated? Employer-mandated vaccination would be in the interests of public health and profit maximisation, but at a cost to employee autonomy and with potentially serious legal consequences.

On one hand, requiring employees to get vaccinated would ensure that employers were discharging their duty of care and providing a safe and healthy workplace. Moreover, it would contribute to widespread rollout of the vaccine, which is crucial to the fight against the virus. From a commercial standpoint, having a vaccinated workforce could promote customer confidence, giving the company a competitive edge and bolstering revenue.

However, the public health and commercial benefits of a “no jab, no job” policy could be outweighed by the cost of the employee compensation claims that they are likely to attract. Under the Equality Act 2010, workplace discrimination on the basis of nine protected characteristics (including religion or belief, disability and pregnancy) is unlawful. Some people refuse to get the vaccine by virtue of their religious or philosophical beliefs, others are hesitant due to health conditions or allergies, and pregnant women are currently advised not to get it. An individual who is fired or not hired for refusing to get vaccinated would be entitled to bring a discrimination claim if their reason for refusal pertains to one of those characteristics. An employee who suffers adverse side effects as a result of employer-mandated vaccination would also be entitled to sue.

Other companies have taken a softer, more persuasive approach to employee vaccination. Many are focusing on educating them about the benefits of vaccination, others are reimbursing costs of travelling to get vaccinated, and some are offering cash and material incentives. Until there is greater clarity on the legality of employer-mandated vaccination, persuasion seems to be a safer option than coercion.

Report written by Isobel Deane

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