EMPLOYERS cannot compel their staff to have a Covid-19 vaccine without good reason, an employment lawyer has warned.

But staff in some sectors could be sacked for refusing the jab if they present a threat to other people such as medical patients and social care users.

Laura Bowyer, HR and employment law specialist at the Affable Partnership in Southampton, said: “The last time government enforced vaccinations was the Vaccination Act 1853 for smallpox, which was repealed a long time ago.”

Compelling staff to have a vaccination would breach the Human Rights Act if the employee had a reasonable concern about side effects or danger and could also breach the Equality Act if the employee suffered discrimination because of their religion or a disability, she said.

“An employer cannot compel its workforce to be vaccinated if they do not wish, unless there is a justified reason for doing so, i.e. those working in healthcare or care home settings,” she added.

“In some circumstances, employees could in fact be dismissed for refusing the vaccination if it means they will present a threat to themselves, patients or service users, so justified as a genuine occupational requirement. Not all businesses have the same level of risk, with staff working at home or not client facing.”

One employer, Pimlico Plumbers, announced a “no jab, no job” policy. It said it would not force existing staff to have a vaccine but would make it a condition of employment for new staff who were able to have a vaccine safely, once jabs were widely available.

Laura Bowyer said employers should provide encouragement, guidance and reliable resources to enable an informed decision. They should provide paid time of for vaccine appointments and give sick pay for anyone kept off work by side effects.

“Unless you are employed in a sector and/or a job role where there are pressing health and safety reasons for you to have the vaccine, an employer is not likely to be able to insist you get it or be able to take action against you for not doing so,” she said.

If an employee refused a vaccine on personal or religious grounds, the employer should think about how other measures could keep them safe.

She urged caution about asking job applicants whether they had been vaccinated.

“In general, there is a prohibition on employers asking prospective employees health-related questions, which in this case would include their vaccination records,” she said.

“However, there are limited exceptions to this in sectors and job roles where there is a particular health and safety reason, meaning the employer needs to know if they have or not.”