19 May 2021 #Employment
A survey conducted by the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC) found that 78% of employers had no plans to check employee’s vaccine status before returning to the workplace.
Due to this, the BCC has asked the Government to provide clarification on whether vaccine passports will be used as part of the roadmap out of lockdown. As the poll results show that the majority of firms have no plans in place, if the Government plans for vaccine passports to be used in certain settings, (particularly in hospitality which is the sector most frequently discussed) businesses need to be informed as soon as possible so there is time to prepare. Such measures would not only impact employees' staff, but customers and potentially suppliers as well.
When the concept of vaccine passports was tabled in March, we reported that use in the work setting could be possible if found to be a necessary to ensure health and safety at work. Despite this, due to the requirements on employers to ensure workplaces are covid-secure, it may be unlikely that requiring information on vaccine status will be necessary or proportionate to manage risk.
However, this will be dependent on the sector and what other safety measures are possible. For example, the Government is considering whether vaccines should be mandatory for care home staff, who are unable to socially distance and work with vulnerable individuals, in contrast to office workers.
We also don’t know how the B1617.2 variant (the so-called “Indian Variant”) is going to impact re-opening and safety measures. This is something we are tracking, as wider spread of this variant could prompt changes or guidance from the government on health and safety and vaccines. So far in the UK, the variant has been spreading mainly among the age groups who have not yet been offered vaccination. In advance of June 21, how transmissible this variant is and whether another month of vaccinations has been sufficient to keep it under control should both be clearer.
In the poll, 76% of firms reported that they would maintain or introduce social distancing in the workplace over the next 12 months, 61% would make hand sanitiser widely available for employees and 54% said that face coverings would be worn.
Where information on vaccine status is obtained, employers should note that this would constitute sensitive personal data meaning the applicable rules under the GDPR and Data Protection Act will apply.
With the work from home advice set to end on 21 June, employers who are re-opening their workplaces should be planning to conduct risk assessments soon, to ensure risks are identified and mitigated where possible.
Equally, if you are an employer who is planning to continue home working, the obligation to ensure health and safety extends to remote workers as well. You may decide this is a good time to gather updated information if remote working is continuing, to ensure you are keeping track of changes to employees’ work environments to ensure new risks are identified and mitigated where possible.
We are tracking government announcements and guidance on vaccine passports and general workplace health and safety.
Please do not hesitate to get in contact with our employment lawyers for specific advice on vaccine status and risk assessments in your business.