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HR leaders to allow work from home despite vaccine

Two vaccinations against COVID-19 have now been rolled out in the UK in order to help it to return to some form of normality.

According to the NHS the two, which have been developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca, will require each individual to have two doses, with the final one due to take place 12 weeks after the first.

Thanks to this breakthrough, it is hoped that the world of work will also eventually see offices opening once again, employees seeing one another face-to-face and for meetings to resume in a physical location rather than over a Zoom call.

With these hopes for normality increasing, Gartner research has revealed that HR leaders will continue to allow working from home arrangements, despite the new vaccine’s availability.

In a study carried out late last year of 130 HR leaders, 90% of respondents stated that they plan to allow employees to work remotely at least part of the time. 65% also shared that their organisation will continue to offer employees flexibility on when they work.

Despite the roll-out of the vaccines, 62% of 118 HR leaders surveyed reported that they are planning to continue all safety measures they have been put in place since the pandemic, however almost one-third shared that they would no longer require masks in the workplace or would not enforce social distancing measures thanks to the vaccine.

Elisabeth Joyce, Vice President of Advisory in the Gartner HR practice, said that as a result of the vaccine, employers are now considering the introduction of new policies to manage the changes.

“Right now, organisations are considering different policies for employees who receive the vaccine and those who do not,” she said. “What is most critical is that HR leaders are making these decisions with the expectation that they may need to course correct as we learn more.”

Should staff be vaccinated?

With any new vaccination recipients of the injection may question whether it is right for them and may be reluctant to have it. But can employers force staff to receive the COVID-19 vaccine if they refuse?

Reflecting on this, Joyce said that this will lead to new and uncertain questions for HR leaders to tackle. She explained: “With a COVID-19 vaccine rollout approaching, HR leaders are now faced with an onslaught of questions, including if they can or should require employees to be vaccinated, what the employer’s responsibility is in helping employees and their families get vaccinated, and how the release of vaccines impacts their return-to-the-workplace strategy.”

When the vaccine is available for employees to have, 60% of 116 HR leaders stated that they would encourage staff to get vaccinated but that it would not be a requirement. In addition, 60% added that they would provide resources to workers on where and how to get vaccinated, with 44% sharing that they plan on covering or subsiding the costs of the vaccine for employees.

What are employees’ rights?

Speaking to HR Grapevine, Elizabeth McEneny, Senior Consultant at CM Murray, stated that those employers who wish to implement a mandatory vaccination policy should “tread very carefully”.

She explained: “Whilst employers may be able to assert that, due to health and safety considerations and their rights to require employees to obey a reasonable instruction, they can mandate vaccination in certain scenarios, in many workplaces any such requirement to be vaccinated must be balanced against the possible infringement of Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998 – right to respect for private and family life, and whether they have a contractual right to impose such a condition.”

She added that employers should take care to ensure that such a policy is not imposed as mandatory and that ultimately an employer cannot force the vaccination on a staff member.

“Ultimately, an employer cannot force an employee to have a vaccine and will need to consider consequences of an employee failing to comply with any such policy. It would be sensible, given the complexity of the legal position, for employers to carefully consider alternatives to dismissal, such as relocating staff to lower-risk roles or allowing homeworking,” McEneny concluded.

This article first appeared in HR Grapevine on 5 January 2021