The 22nd of February was a day the nation let out a sigh of relief (all be it, a very small one). The Prime Minister set out a very cautious road map to end lockdown after early signs suggest the country’s vaccination program is working.
For the first time in a long time, people can very tentatively start planning ahead for life unrestricted. And employers countrywide can start mapping out a long-term plan for how to safely bring staff back into the office, which seems possible to happen at some point before the end of June.
But it’s by no means a simple task to navigate. Although take up for the vaccine so far has been around the 90 percent mark, there will still be some people who turn it down, either through choice or on medical grounds.
And even if someone’s been vaccinated, they might not feel comfortable being in an enclosed space with a larger number of people than they have been used to over the past 12 months. Vaccine or no vaccine, many vulnerable employees will need to feel comfortable returning to their work environment and will look to their employer for reassurances.
Another conundrum facing employers is whether to ask employees whether they’ve had the vaccine or not. Employers could argue that if they had this information it would make safeguarding their employees all the more manageable.
However, under current data protection legislation, such information is classed as special category data and the employer’s use of it must be necessary, proportionate and for a specific purpose. The sector the employer operates in, the type of work employees do and risks associated with specific workplaces would all be factors to take into account when deciding whether there is a compelling case to be made for collecting the information. So at present, it would seem there is no one clear solution to this dilemma.
However, the vaccine programme is still in its infancy and there’s still a long way to go before we’re certain of its effectiveness. So until the numbers give us more insight, there’s no immediate rush to reconsider our data protection laws.
The best course of action is for employers to work under the assumption that not everyone will be vaccinated, and start building a robust risk management plan in time for their entire workforce returning in full. Key points to consider include:
1) Keeping PPE and hygiene measures in place
Usual procedures could be:
2) Educating employees about the efficacy and safety of the vaccine
Making it mandatory for people to take the vaccine could be problematic, especially for current employees. If it’s not in their contract, they could force employers into a tribunal. The best solution is to empower people with the right scientific information to try and help alleviate any fears.
3) Allowing people to work from home if they can
Flexibility is probably still the best policy. We’ve seen much of the nation’s workforce can keep doing their job just fine from the comfort of their homes. And if for whatever reason some of your staff don’t feel comfortable coming back into office, let them carry on as they are.
RMP is here to help with advice and support on how to risk manage the challenging situations public sector employers sometimes face so please get in touch to find out how we can help with risk management advice.
Published date: 9th March 2021
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