The 10 fundamentals for compulsory vaccinations in the workplace

The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic saw the world as we know it drastically altered. All of life’s ordinary pleasures and comforts have had to be reimagined. However, not all hope is lost. A needle of hope has presented itself in the form of a vaccination. While this may appear to be the solution to the problems of many employers across the globe, a dosage of caution must be taken. The following is a brief overview of the principles that an employer should consider before embarking on such a project.

25 Jan 2021 2 min read Employment Law Alert Article

At a glance

  • Employers have the obligation to provide a safe and healthy workplace, and a mandatory vaccination policy can help achieve this goal.
  • The reasonableness of instructing employees to undergo compulsory vaccination should be considered.
  • Employers should be mindful of employees' rights, such as the right to bodily integrity and religious freedom, which may impact the imposition of a compulsory vaccination policy. Meaningful consultations with employees or their representatives are encouraged to obtain voluntary buy-in.
  1. The obligation to ensure that the workplace is a safe and healthy environment conducive to optimal productivity rests primarily on the employer. A mandatory vaccination policy could be helpful in ensuring such an environment.
  2. Whether any instruction to undergo compulsory vaccination constitutes a reasonable instruction by the employer to its employees.
  3. It is also important to consider the relationship between the employees and the unwritten obligation that exists amongst themselves not to endanger one another’s health and safety.
  4. The policy may benefit the entire workforce, including applicants for positions. However, employers should not negate the fact that their employees have constitutionally and protected rights. These rights include freedom and security of person, bodily and psychological integrity and the right to enjoy religious and cultural freedom. Although no right is absolute, these rights may impact on the right of the employer to impose a compulsory vaccination policy.
  5. In addition, the employees may take issue to a possible unilateral change to the conditions of the terms and conditions of employment.
  6. It has become a known fact that many businesses currently face the fear of job losses and closures. The imposition of such a policy may act in mitigating the likelihood of such occurrences.
  7. The full scope of the right to privacy and the POPI Act should similarly be considered.
  8. Further, if an employee is adversely affected by the vaccination, the employer could be liable for same.
  9. In taking such action, the provisions of the Labour Relations Act may also be considered. For example, the utilisation of section 23 of the Act to conclude a Collective Agreement with a majority trade union/s in order to ensure the proper enforcement of such a policy.
  10. The policy may also have an effect on the workforce of the employers’ subcontractors – such employees’ access to the employers’ workplace may be impacted as well as the service level agreement with its subcontractors.

Employers should strive to obtain their employees voluntary buy-in. Accordingly, it is always the preferred option for the Employer to engage in meaningful consultations with the Employees and / or their representatives before embarking on any changes that will impact them.

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