More information is available in our vaccination FAQs. All CIPD website visitors can access downloadable COVID-19 related templates, provided by our partner HR-inform.

UK rollout

Use the links below to find the latest information on the vaccine roll-out and eligibility across the UK:

Employers should keep up to date with the latest information on the vaccine rollout programme across the UK via these links. 
 
Employers should also remember that the vaccine is just one measure of protection and the extent to which the virus will further mutate is still unknown. 
 
From 1 April 2022 employers are not explicitly required to consider COVID-19 as part of risk assessments but there is an overriding duty to identify workplace risks and reduce them to the lowest level possible. Employers should at least include coronavirus risks in their risk management assessments and consider measures such as a flexible approach to continued home or hybrid working and workplace measures such as ventilation, handwashing, social distancing and the use of PPE even though most legal restrictions have come to an end. There is a specific duty to undertake risk assessments for pregnant workers and these should also be undertaken for at risk individuals, such as the clinically vulnerable and those who may be classed as disabled under the Equality Act. Occupational health may need to be consulted on health and safety measures or reasonable adjustments for example staggering start and finish times so that vulnerable workers can commute during less busy times. 
 
Employers should address individual concerns when raised and stay up to date with the latest plans and advice on the UK government website, covering all UK countries, and adjust their plans accordingly.

Managing vaccinated employees

In the UK, generally, vaccination has not been mandatory and this remains the case. It will no longer be mandatory for all health and social care workers, and volunteers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to be deployed as was previously planned.  Legal requirements making vaccination mandatory in care homes were reversed in March 2022 (see below).  

Health, social care and other employers in England should still try to ensure workers and volunteers, including frontline NHS staff, are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, unless the workers are exempt. However, this is a professional responsibility rather than a legal requirement.

Given that, for public health reasons and to protect themselves and others from disease, it’s desirable to have as many people vaccinated against COVID-19 as possible, employers should encourage staff to be vaccinated and publicise the benefits to improve take up of the vaccine and boosters when individuals are offered these through the NHS.

As COVID-19 vaccination and boosters extend and are repeated throughout the UK, employers must incorporate plans on the implications for their staff, visitors and workplace as a whole, covering: communication to encourage take up and boosters; risk assessment; and vaccine policy. Employers will also need to consider their contractual terms and data protection, disciplinary, grievance and dismissal policies. The key points to consider are outlined below.

Encouraging vaccination

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 obliges employers to take reasonable steps to reduce any workplace risks; this duty gives employers justification for encouraging their employees to be vaccinated and accept offers of boosters to protect themselves and everyone else at the workplace. COVID-19 is also a reportable disease under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (known as RIDDOR) which strengthens employers’ encouragement that employees should agree to vaccination.

Most people will welcome the opportunity to be vaccinated against COVID-19, but there will be a minority who will be reluctant or refuse to have the vaccine. The reasons could be many and varied, including individuals who can’t have the vaccine (for example, on medical grounds), those who can have the vaccine but refuse (for example, on religious or spiritual grounds) and those who can have it but have concerns and are uncertain (for example, due to a fear of vaccinations generally). While it is primarily the role of the government and health service to combat vaccine hesitancy, employers play a vital role in helping promote a persuasive case for COVID-19 vaccinations as they are gatekeepers for the health and safety of employees.

The wisest approach for employers is to encourage staff to be vaccinated and boosted and publicise the benefits to improve take up of the vaccine and boosters when offered through the NHS. Engagement by organisations through good communication will help employees make informed decisions regarding their vaccination. Explaining and encouraging employees with impartial, factual information will keep them informed about the workplace impact and risks of COVID-19.

It is advisable to retain copies of any communications employers have produced to encourage vaccination, in case any pro-vaccine employees complain that the employer has taken inadequate steps to comply with their health and safety duties.

Ways to communicate encouragement
  • Run and renew awareness campaigns, drawing on updated NHS information. There is an NHS COVID Behaviour Change Unit helping present a more powerful and persuasive case for vaccination and boosters.
  • Offer employees consistent, accessible and factual safety data which promotes the genuine achievement of science in producing an effective vaccine.
  • Ensure line managers are aware of policy and organisational approach.
  • Consider counteracting misinformation and conspiracy theory spread through social media. The education programme may promote the merits of vaccines in general, and the COVID vaccines specifically.

If an employee voices vaccine concerns, then individual discussions with a trusted staff member may help to allay fears and obtain their consent but employees should not be unduly pressurised into agreeing. Employers are far more likely to achieve a fully vaccinated workforce if they use open and honest two-way communication and listen to any concerns that individuals may have.

Adopting a vaccination policy

Developing (or updating) a policy on vaccination allows employers to outline the organisation's stance on vaccination and explain the role of and expectations on managers, HR and employees.

Vaccination policies should be updated and take into account the legal aspects, for example, discrimination claims, as well as providing information on data protection and health and safety duties. A policy can potentially be objectively justified as a means of achieving the legitimate aim of staff health and safety. Vaccination policies may be a proportionate way of achieving those aims, although this will depend upon the way in which they are operated and the impact on the individual employee.

A vaccination policy can be part of the overall COVID-19 secure steps towards maximising the number of employees who can attend work safely. However, it is part of the overall matrix and not a substitute for other measures.

Organisations should follow a voluntary approach when setting out its aims and objectives in a policy. As well as the legal and financial risks of adopting a mandatory approach, engaging employees with a voluntary approach will build trust and encourage employees to appreciate the benefits for themselves and others. The policy can help explain the benefits of vaccination and how employees can contribute to wider public health by protecting themselves and other employees and wider community by being vaccinated.

Risk assessments

Existing COVID-19 risk assessments must be updated to refer to being vaccinated. Employers should encourage employees to get vaccinated and have boosters once their age group becomes entitled to it. Risk assessments must also include alternative safety measures to receiving the vaccine (for example ventilation and the continued use of PPE).

Other aspects to be explored when carrying out risk assessment include:

  • Updating risk assessments to reflect the availability of the vaccine to different age groups.
  • Special measures for any clinically extremely vulnerable staff and potential health and safety, discrimination or other claims resulting from vaccination or failure to vaccinate.
  • Review of other COVID-19 risk management measures and reasonable alternatives to or additions to vaccination such as continued working from home, regular testing, social distancing, use of PPE, handwashing and so on. This consideration should include people unable to have the vaccine, those who are pregnant, trying to conceive or those with an allergic response.
  • The potential for individual employees to refuse a vaccination and additional measures the employer can put in place if any staff refuse vaccination.

Future government and NHS proposals for subsequent annual vaccination will necessitate further planning by employers. For additional information on employers’ plans see the FAQ: What plans should employers make surrounding COVID-19 vaccinations?

It’s also worth remembering that the government’s guidance changes on relatively short notice, so employers should review vaccine advice regularly and, to protect themselves, keep a copy of the advice relied upon in case the original electronic advice disappears.

Clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) people

Vaccination may alter an employer’s approach for some clinically highly vulnerable staff once they have had both doses and any available booster. Having the vaccine means these workers can better protect themselves and may be able to return to normal duties in the workplace (if it’s essential that they return to the workplace), following an individual risk assessment. Clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) people have not had to shield since 1 April 2021 and can return to normal duties, some may have agreed to continue working from home where possible and/or may follow additional precautions such as regular testing, social distancing and advice relating to ventilation etc. The government advises it is still important for these people to follow the additional precautions 'to keep themselves as protected as possible'.

Planning for different groups of employees

Employees who can’t have the vaccine

Some individuals may be advised not to have the vaccine due to a medical condition, while others may be allergic or have trypanophobia (a fear of needles). These people could be protected by the disability provisions within the Equality Act 2010 if they refuse the vaccine.

It is possible that some allergic reactions could be protected as a disability but this should not be an issue if employees refuse the vaccine due to an allergy. Following the initial roll-out, the MHRA has advised that individuals with a history of anaphylaxis to food, an identified drug or vaccine, or an insect sting can still receive any COVID-19 vaccine, as long as they are not known to be allergic to any component of the vaccine. 

For employees with a genuine medical reason that prevents vaccination, employers should take other steps with regards to health and safety, for example reinforcing their COVID-19 risk management, regular testing, facilitating remote working where possible, or considering a different role. In some cases, medical advice may need to be taken with the employee’s consent.

Employees who may be hesitant

‘Vaccine hesitancy’ is the term used to describe either a delay in taking vaccines, or a refusal to have them. It is a complex area with much scientific research considering the reasons behind it and the approaches to take.

There are NHS toolkits for healthcare workers and public health experts dealing with hesitancy. Encouraging people with a deeply established anti-vax stance to receive a vaccination is difficult. How best to manage this is a complex aspect of behavioural science and really falls to the state rather than individual employers. However, employers may find some of the overall research helpful in managing employees who are hesitant. Encouragement, engagement and education are key.

External medical advisors engaged to answer any questions and provide reassurance to employees may help. Trusted members of senior management may also be able to deliver the message as trust is a key aspect. False stories on social media need to be countered with evidenced-based messages. Social norms also influence behaviour so bringing attention to national media reports showing how many people have been vaccinated each day helps the feeling of a collective effort.

Employers should listen to any concerns employees have around vaccination with empathy and understanding, as with the many issues that people have been facing due to the pandemic (like illness, fear and anxiety, childcare issues and so on) – this is a period that needs very careful and sensitive management.

Line managers will likely be the first port of call for most employee concerns – hopefully the relationship they have with their team will be based on trust and the kind of environment that enables honest conversation. Managers also need to be briefed on the organisation’s vaccination policy and any awareness campaign around vaccinations, possible questions and concerns they could face from employees about the vaccine, and how to deal with them/refer to HR if necessary.

Pregnant or breastfeeding employees

Advice for those who are pregnant, breastfeeding or planning to get pregnant has changed since the vaccination programme started. There's no evidence the COVID-19 vaccines are unsafe. The JCVI advise that pregnant women should have the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible. Pregnant women are more at risk of severe COVID-19 disease and should not delay vaccination until after they have given birth.

Breastfeeding women can have the COVID-19 vaccine.

Women do not need to avoid pregnancy after vaccination. However, those who avoid vaccination because they are planning a pregnancy may be able to use this to assert sex or pregnancy discrimination if they are then treated less favourably or are later dismissed due to this refusal.

Ethnic minority groups

There has been some evidence that hesitancy about the vaccine has been disproportionately higher in ethnic minority groups. The government's scientific group for emergencies (SAGE) has warned of a risk that vaccine uptake could be lower among certain ethnic minority groups.

The additional effort to identify and encourage ethnic minority patients to take up COVID-19 vaccination is primarily down to the government and the NHS. Employers should not identify employees based on ethnicity and stereotype them based on their ethnicity as this would potentially be discriminatory treatment. Employers should distribute information equally to all employees. There is an NHS anti-disinformation drive and a national equalities board dealing with the disproportionate impact of the virus on ethnic minority communities.

Employers should consider any cases of hesitancy individually, offering support and directing to NHS and government advice where possible.

Employees who refuse the vaccine

Employees may refuse vaccines for many reasons, ranging from concerns about potential allergy, a phobia of needles or misplaced concerns about fertility. There is also misinformation around vaccines including disbelief about the rigorousness of the approval process, which could lead to concerns or refusal.

Whatever reason an employee has for refusing to be vaccinated, employers must consider each case individually, taking into account the issues outlined below. Some of the concerns people may have could reflect deeply held views or feelings of apprehension, and these are taking place against a backdrop of heightened levels of fear and anxiety due to the pandemic and the challenging circumstances many are experiencing.

Refusal due to philosophical belief

An employee with an anti-vaccination belief could argue it is a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010. This act protects some beliefs, such as climate change, or the use of only natural medicine, if deemed genuinely held and worthy of respect. The Grainger case law is an example. There has been some initial tribunal level case law which suggests that a fear of catching COVID-19 is not a protected philosophical belief. There are legal subtleties around whether the 'anti-vax' movement would be protected, but there is at least a possibility claims could be brought and lead to irrecoverable legal costs or compensation. If an employee seeks protection under philosophical belief, please seek legal advice.

Refusal due to religious belief

Some employees may refuse to be vaccinated on the basis of their religious beliefs. Religious beliefs do not have to be shared by everybody within that religion. For example, the belief of some Christians that a cross should be worn as a symbol of your faith does not have to be held by everyone. Therefore, an anti- vaccination belief could be held by some people of a certain faith and potentially be protected, even though others of the same faith are in favour of vaccination. Employers will have to take each case on its merits and listen to an employee’s reasons for refusing vaccination and if necessary, explore other COVID-19 secure ways of working.

Religious objections to vaccines are for a wide range of reasons depending upon the individual, the interpretation of their religion and the vaccine. Objections may be based on beliefs that the body should avoid certain chemicals, stem cell or animal derived products.

For example, although pork gelatine is historically used in some vaccines, which could lead to refusal on the grounds of religious belief for people of Muslim, Jewish or Hindu faith, the COVID-19 vaccines being used in the UK do not use pork gelatine. Other objections may relate to ethanol or host cell lines used in the production of some vaccines. The UK COVID-19 vaccine rollout is endorsed by the British Islamic Medical Association, Hindu Council UK, and the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Full information on the ingredients of the Oxford-Astrazeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and other vaccines can be found on their websites and patient information leaflets. This information can be used to discuss any objections based on religious beliefs.

Other religious groups with an objection to vaccines include religions that rely on faith healing including some Christian churches. Some Amish may be reluctant to vaccinate. Christian Scientists do not have a formal policy against vaccines but may believe that medical interventions including vaccines are unnecessary generally relying on prayer for healing. There has been an unsuccessful tribunal level case concerning dismissal for refusal to be vaccinated which had a religious element. The employee said taking any form of non-natural medication would go against her Rastafarian beliefs. However, there were issues in that case about when the religious objection to pharmaceutical medicines was raised. Employers should take each case individually and listen to any reasons for refusing vaccination and, where needed, consider other COVID-19 secure ways of working.

Detailed free information on vaccines and their ingredients can be obtained from the University of Oxford Vaccine Knowledge Project which aims to provide clear information to the public backed up with references to research. This information may help employees make informed decisions about vaccine issues.

Options if staff refuse vaccination

If staff refuse vaccination employers should seriously consider the employee’s reasons and any concerns they may have, and look to implement alternative solutions, while relevant. This could include hybrid working or continued working from home if possible, social distancing within the workplace, screens, the use of PPE and so on. The employer may be willing to consider changing the employee’s work responsibilities or role if this could enable them to work remotely or in a safer working environment. The position changes from month to month as virus rates, variations and severity of symptoms fluctuate.

Ultimately, if their return to the workplace could pose a threat to the wider workforce's health and safety, employers may consider not allowing unvaccinated employees to return to the workplace. This entails a legal risk for the employer. Indirectly pressurising employees to be vaccinated (such as with disciplinary action) are likely to result in claims and will be less successful, ultimately, than the encouragement approach of sharing educational factual information.

In some sectors though, such as health and care work, vaccination is of even greater importance so employers may consider a dismissal process as a last resort, especially if they are unable to find alternative work for individuals who refuse vaccination and other efforts at encouraging employees to be vaccinated are unsuccessful.

Mandatory vaccination

On 31 January 2022 the UK Government announced a change of policy and has abandoned the previous requirement for health and social care staff to have mandatory vaccinations. 

  • Care homes: Between 11 November 2021 and 15 March 2022 vaccination was compulsory for all those working in care homes in England. From 15 March 2022 vaccination remains strongly advised for care home staff but it is not compulsory. This means those working in a Care Quality Commission-registered care home for adults are no longer legally required to have two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine to enter the premises. Residents and their visitors do not have to be vaccinated as a legal requirement, although it remains strongly advised that they all do so. 
  • Other front line health care workers: Proposals for new requirements to make vaccination compulsory for frontline health and social care workers from April 2022  were also reversed.

More information is available in our vaccination FAQs.

Instead of making vaccines mandatory as some other countries (for example Austria) have done the overall UK position is that employers in all sectors are still strongly encouraged to ensure staff are vaccinated against COVID-19, whilst falling short of making this mandatory. Official guidance in health and social care emphasises the professional responsibility of everyone working in that sector has a professional duty to be vaccinated against COVID-19. 

Before the care home and NHS development, some employers in other sectors chose to make vaccination mandatory for their workforce. Some employers in other sectors chose to make vaccination mandatory for their workforce. For example, Pimlico (formerly Pimlico Plumbers) originally introduced a ‘no jab, no job’ policy and engaging only new starters who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 and offering to pay for all staff to have the vaccination once it becomes privately available.

There are numerous issues to consider with regards to mandatory vaccination including exemptions, alternatives such as a flexible approach to home working or redeployment to another role, discrimination, human rights issues and the availability of other methods of risk management such as testing or the impact of natural immunity. The balancing exercise may consider health and safety concerns, virus rates, vulnerable colleagues, and the nature of the work. Mandatory vaccination may discriminate based on disability, or religious or philosophical belief. 

The Government’s reversal of the legal requirement for vaccination in the health, and social care and care home sectors arguably makes it harder for employers in other sectors to justify mandatory vaccination. However, vaccination is still strongly advised as a matter of individual professional responsibility. Employers who receive job applications from staff they believe to be unvaccinated (for example previously dismissed care home staff) will have to undertake a balancing exercise. Whether to employ unvaccinated staff depends on the nature of the workplace, government advice, risks, other vulnerable staff, and the risk of discrimination claims from an unsuccessful applicant.

Vaccination requires an individual’s informed and voluntary consent and cannot be forced. If employees refuse vaccination, to discharge their health and safety duty, the employer may need to consider other steps that can be taken to protect them. An employer could still consider potential disciplinary proceedings for failure to follow a reasonable instruction in certain settings (such as health or care) where an employees’ refusal has serious consequences but this approach is not without risk (as outlined below). Any employers considering this approach must be sure to follow any government guidance that emerges and seek specific legal advice, and should bear in mind the following:

  • Warning all staff that vaccination is likely to be a condition of employment
  • Reviewing employment contracts (remembering that enforcing a change without employees’ agreement would be in breach of contract and employees could resign and claim constructive unfair dismissal)
  • Any incentives offered should not discriminate against employees with protected characteristics (such as age, disability or belief) who have reasons for not having the vaccination
  • Communicating to any employees who have to travel for work especially to countries with mandatory vaccination rules, that the vaccine is likely to be a necessary job requirement
  • Any vaccination strategy must include exceptions for employees who cannot accept the vaccine due to medical or possibly belief reasons.

Dismissal for refusal to be vaccinated

For the position concerning staff who refuse, failure to follow an employer’s reasonable instructions can lead to disciplinary processes and dismissal. The current legal approach would normally involve consideration of alternative roles before potential procedures towards dismissal although alternative roles will not be available for may employers.

Whether an instruction to have a COVID-19 vaccine is reasonable has not been fully tested in the higher courts although tribunal cases are starting to emerge. As there is at least a risk of unfair dismissal, discrimination and other claims, employers should consider their position very carefully before moving towards disciplinary processes and dismissal. Being a test case as one of the first employers to dismiss on the grounds of vaccine refusal is likely to be time consuming and potentially expensive.

Whether the employer is entitled to dismiss is not straightforward. The key issue is if refusal to be vaccinated is an unreasonable failure to comply with a reasonable management request. The question of what is unreasonable depends on the particular circumstances of the employee.

Every employment contract contains an implied term that employees must follow their employer’s reasonable instructions. Whether an instruction to be immunised is reasonable depends upon the facts of each case, for example virus and vaccination rates, the nature of the role, the numbers of clinically vulnerable colleagues, the size and layout and people contact in the workplace. For example, employers in a nursing home may be able to issue a reasonable instruction to employees to be vaccinated. An employee's refusal could put vulnerable people at risk. See case law example of Allette v Scarsdale Grange Nursing Home Ltd (2021) concerning the fairness of a dismissal for refusing to be vaccinated against COVID -19. In this case  the dismissal was reasonable in the circumstances, however each case depends on its own facts.

Any dismissal procedure must be handled fairly overall including consideration of any alternative roles. Employers in another sector such as accountancy, where it has been shown that work can be done effectively from home, may be in a weaker position and an instruction to be vaccinated may not be deemed reasonable.

An unreasonable refusal by the employee may justify disciplinary action. The employee is under an implied duty to act in the best interests of the employer and colleagues and to take care of their health and safety. This arguably includes reasonable precautions not to infect customers or other employees.

The most likely other potential justification for dismissal resulting from refusal of a vaccination would be incapability or some other substantial reason (SOSR) resulting from the employee’s conduct in refusing to obey. For example, a hospital employer could in theory argue vaccine refusal is too high a risk to vulnerable patients or the employee themselves and is a substantial reason to discipline and then dismiss the employee. Although this is harder to argue now that the UK Government have removed the proposed mandatory vaccine requirement for healthcare staff; vaccination is still strongly advised as a matter of professional responsibility. Employers should always give employees time to decide and should always follow a fair disciplinary and dismissal process before disciplining or dismissing unvaccinated staff.

As well as establishing the potentially fair reason, the entire dismissal process also has to be fair. This must include the usual written, meeting and appeal stages, with the employee being given the opportunity to be accompanied and to set out their rationale for their opposition to vaccination.

An employer can only attempt to defeat an unfair dismissal claim if it can show that the employee unreasonably refused to be vaccinated. Each case will be considered on its own facts, including consideration of other ways in which the employee could continue to work safely without vaccination. If an employee’s vaccine refusal is related to a disability or a religious or philosophical belief the employee may have a direct or indirect discrimination claim as well as a constructive unfair dismissal, breach of trust and confidence and other claims.

The best course of action is for employers to reassure rather than overtly persuade, leading by example and engaging with staff about safety, outlining the benefits of vaccination with the latest information, delivered in a culturally sensitive way.

Other considerations

Testing

Currently, everyone can get free COVID rapid lateral flow tests available from pharmacies, with a 'collect code' obtained from GOV.UK and can also be ordered for home delivery. Employers can no longer access lateral flow tests for employees. Instead employers could buy their own tests or pay an approved provider to provide workplace testing. Alternatively, employers can ask employees to obtain a rapid lateral flow test. Any employees with symptoms should test and stay at home if positive. For more information on free lateral flow tests see our FAQs on testing. Employers should note that from 1 April 2022, the Government will no longer provide free universal testing in England. COVID-19 tests will be available to purchase through the private market via retailers and pharmacies, although some limited ongoing free testing will be available for a small number of at-risk groups and social care staff. It is expected that access to free testing will continue for longer in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Asking employees (and potential employees) if they have had the vaccine

Employers can ask if employees have or have not been vaccinated but should have a good reason for needing to know, for example the safety of other employees. This information is sensitive personal health data and employers need to comply with the data protection rules (see below).

If employees refuse to answer, problems can arise. Asking about vaccination is probably a reasonable management instruction which means that employers can discipline employees who refuse to answer, but lawyers have different opinions on this and on taking disciplinary action against employees who haven’t been immunised. Each case will depend on its own facts; for example, employers should be able to justify asking health care professionals if they have been vaccinated, as they are much more likely to be exposed to COVID-19 and pass it to others. But employers with staff who have limited contact with other people at all will find it harder to justify.

Employees who have been vaccinated could show their vaccination record card or NHS app vaccination status as proof.

Certification

Vaccination passports or certification are needed for international travel but are no longer needed in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland for entry to nightclubs and other events, although they can still choose to use the NHS COVID Pass on a voluntary basis. For the latest information on these, please visit the following links:

Recruitment

Asking candidates during recruitment if they have had the vaccine may be justified in certain sectors and job roles where there is a particular health and safety exposure. However, generally, medical information is sensitive data that may be deemed inappropriate to ask in interview as employers should avoid asking prospective employees health-related questions. Whilst it may be inappropriate to ask prospective employees about their testing and vaccination status, employers can justify processing any data relating to vaccination or testing of existing employees provided it is relevant to the role and is in line with the data protection requirements below.

Data protection and privacy

Medical information that an employee has received a vaccine will constitute special category data so employers who choose to keep records should do so in accordance with GDPR and the Data Protection Act 2018.

Under this legislation processing of personal data concerning health constitutes a special category and is prohibited, unless vaccination records are necessary and proportionate. Employers could ask employees to notify of their vaccination as this processing of health data is potentially justified as necessary to comply with employment law, the employer’s health and safety duties and for reasons of public interest in health.

However, if vaccination data is gathered, like testing data, it will count as a ‘special category’ under data protection law because it is medical information and must be processed fairly and lawfully. Data protection law is widely misunderstood and does not prevent employers from taking steps to keep staff and the public safe. All that is required is responsible, careful and justified handling of personal data.

Employers should have a policy document and data risk assessment covering the processing to ensure compliance with key data protection principles including transparency, data minimisation and security requirements. Only necessary data should be kept – never collect personal data that isn’t needed. Employers should consider and document the risk to employees and any alternatives to obtaining and processing the data that have been considered. Employee Privacy Policies should be reviewed and updated.

Example:

An employer with meat processing premises has a workforce who are nearly all unable to work from home. The employer implements ventilation, social distancing where possible, regular cleaning, and wearing face coverings. It asks staff about whether they have been vaccinated, and as many younger staff have not it asks all staff to complete a short weekly questionnaire about their testing and symptoms.

From a data protection point of view this involves processing personal data which must be processed lawfully, fairly and transparently. The employer should:

  • Undertake a Data Protection Impact Assessment.
  • Identify a lawful basis for the processing. This is probably ‘legitimate interests’ because health is special category data and a special condition needed for processing which is the company’s health and safety obligations.
  • Consider if there are less intrusive means of complying with the employer’s obligations, for example the employer should document why social distancing, face coverings etc are insufficient and why the data about both vaccination and symptoms is needed to protect staff.
  • Be clear, open and honest with staff about why personal data is needed and how it will be used.
  • Explain how the information would be held securely, how long it will be kept and who it will be shared with.

Whilst symptoms data, vaccination and testing records may be kept on an employee’s files obviously this information should not be shared with staff or third parties. If an employee tests positive however then recording this is justified under data protection law as a public health concern. Other staff can be told about possible or confirmed COVID-19 cases on an anonymous basis with no more information than is necessary.

Offering vaccination (like flu vaccination) as a benefit

In the future employers may be prepared to privately purchase and offer prompt COVID-19 vaccination as a workplace benefit, similar to flu vaccinations. If the cost is under £50, this will not be a taxable benefit. Employers who have offered the flu vaccine are not obliged to offer the COVID-19 vaccine. Employers may consider offering both vaccines, but budgeting for it is not yet possible as there are too many unknowns. For example, an annual COVID-19 vaccines may be indefinitely offered by the NHS as part of a dual vaccination programme with yearly jabs to protect against both flu and coronavirus.

Travel
As travel restrictions are lifted, employers need to consider encouraging vaccination of employees who travel for work in the same way they may need other travel vaccinations.

People who are fully vaccinated with permissible vaccines do not have to self-isolate on arrival in the UK unless they have symptoms or test positive. The NHS COVID Pass and Scottish, Welsh and NI equivalents showing fully vaccinated status can be used to allow fully vaccinated adults to avoid testing before they travel to England from other countries although they still need to book and pay for a COVID-19 test to take after they arrive. 

Employers sending staff overseas must frequently check the destination country's entry vaccination rules before travel. Proof of vaccination status is required by many countries for entry. 

Other issues

  • An employer’s vaccination policy is likely to be weakened if unvaccinated agency staff, contractors, visitors and other third parties are allowed into the workplace. Employers will need to consider whether visitors are encouraged to have been vaccinated too and how this is communicated to staff.

  • Employers with international offices will need to consider how a vaccination policy will be applied where other vaccination rollout programmes are in operation.

  • Differences of opinion are likely to arise both remotely and in the workplace with pro-vaccine staff and those more sceptical and refusing to have the vaccine. Employers should proactively intervene in such disputes and take steps to avoid potential conflict.

Until we know the extent of future variants and the effects have been monitored, other measures, including ventilation and limiting exposure must continue for the foreseeable future.

Employers should keep up to date with latest advice from the UK government and maintain open and honest communication with employees.

DISCLAIMER: The materials in this guidance are provided for general information purposes and do not constitute legal or other professional advice. While the information is considered to be true and correct at the date of publication, changes in circumstances may impact the accuracy and validity of the information. The CIPD is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for any action or decision taken as a result of using the guidance. You should consult a professional adviser for legal or other advice where appropriate.

Explore our related content

Guides

Coronavirus (COVID-19): Managing health and safety considerations

This guide, written by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), the world’s Chartered body for safety and health at work, outlines what you need to know to sustain safe and healthy workplaces as we continue to manage the effects of COVID-19.

Workplace safety

Resources on the key issues that employers need to consider in managing a safe workplace, including vaccination and testing policies

Read more
Factsheets

Employee communication

Learn about building an effective internal communication strategy, from tailoring communications and engaging line managers to using social media and developing two-way dialogue.

Read more
Top