We have already seen the reaction to the first pictures of British citizens receiving the first dose of the Covid vaccine. Time for celebrations, now we have a V-Day, not VE or VJ Day, and the momentum is all behind us all agreeing to be vaccinated, it is almost becoming a matter of public duty. There will be many reasons why individuals may decide not to receive the vaccine, and one approach must be to conclude that the decision on this matter must be a matter of personal conscience.
I have heard the Government ministers at press conferences asked about the consequences of not opting to have the vaccine jab. This has included the possibility of having unfettered access to certain places and activities, and answers have been unclear, at times suggesting that there may be incentives to have the vaccine. I have also read about the idea of a vaccine card being needed to go into say a cinema, a football match, or to take a flight. Many private businesses may decide that ensuring that their customers have had the vaccine will reduce risk of infection, thereby enhancing the chance of staying open, and even reducing insurance premiums.
It is of interest that Liverpool has been asked to run another pilot scheme, with more than 25 businesses signing up to offer discounts to customers in shops and restaurants, and visitor attractions if they produce a negative coronavirus test. Is it too far from that point to see that repeated with evidence of having had the vaccine.
What then of the world of work. Employers have a responsibility to protect the health and safety of employees, and that might involve working from home, social distancing, wearing masks, sanitising gel, and regular cleaning. Imagine if an employer insisted upon employees working from an office environment but stating that employees could only return if they had proof of having received the vaccine. The alternative might be to dismiss employees, or to keep them on permanent suspension with or without pay until the virus is fully under control.
The idea of taking this stance would in my view be difficult for employers. There are cases when employees cannot receive the vaccine, including pregnant women, and people with certain underlying health conditions including allergies. Similarly, there will be employees who would still be taking a risk in attending at work with the vaccine due to health related vulnerability.
As regards possible legal issues, I can foresee Tribunals taking a strict view of this issue, requiring employers to have the highest level of justification to adopt such a position, noting the other methods of ensuring safe working conditions, including regular testing which becomes increasingly available. Further, some disabled employees would be able to raise disability discrimination claims, and some opposed to the vaccine will rely upon their philosophical beliefs to justify their decision not receive the jab. If unfair dismissal claims are also difficult to defend the legal landscape may favour employees.
I am in little doubt that the decision not to have the virus may have some possible negative outcomes for individuals down the line. This might be the stance taken by airlines or other issues, it is perhaps too early to know. The idea of employers deciding to in effect enforce vaccination in workplaces has not been advanced to date, but I can foresee that it will be raised in some cases. Another issue to be kept under review.