Friday 27 November 2020 7:11 am

DEBATE: Should employers be able to insist on mandatory Covid vaccines for staff?

Charlie Mullins is chief executive and founder of Pimlico Plumbers
and Russell Dann
Russell Dann is an associate at Clarkslegal

Should employers be able to insist on mandatory Covid vaccines for staff?

Charlie Mullins, founder of Pimlico Plumbers, says YES.

There are times when it is necessary to override certain rights for the greater good. Gaining the upper hand in the struggle against Covid-19 is such a moment. 

It is accepted that the only path out of the current crisis and perpetual lockdowns is by means of a vaccine, and that, for a vaccine to be effective, it must be administered to a high percentage of the population.

It is also true that businesses have an obligation to customers and staff to take all possible precautions in order to keep them free from harm. So just as there are laws on chemicals that can be used and safety equipment that must be worn in a workplace environment, why shouldn’t a medical intervention that saves lives be mandatory?

I’m not going to argue for making it a crime to refuse vaccination. But a civil emergency of this scale warrants a serious response. Employers should be able to make vaccination a condition of employment for new and existing staff, for health and safety reasons — and for the greater good of the UK public.

Read more: Want people to get the Covid vaccine? Pay them

Russell Dann, associate at Clarkslegal, says NO.

The vaccines against Covid-19 offer us all a way out of this crisis. And the vaccination programme will only be effective if as many people are vaccinated as possible.

However, making vaccines compulsory at work will only provide ammunition to anti-vaxxers who argue wrongly that this is some kind of sinister plot. 

Clearly, there will be a large proportion of the population who will choose to get vaccinated. In fact, much of the political debate is around who gets the jab first. It would be counterproductive for employers to make it obligatory for employees to be immunised, when public support is already so high.

While there will be sectors (such as primary health and social care) where regulations or insurance requirements could make vaccinations effectively mandatory, for employers in general this risks being a serious and unjustifiable infringement of civil liberties.

Where the government has limited freedoms during the pandemic, it has rightly been challenged and held to account. But ultimately it has been able to rely on its public health obligations. This justification would not be available to individual employers: allowing staff to choose whether or not to be vaccinated would not place other employees or the public at significant risk.

Read more: Fake news: How to fight the Covid infodemic

Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.