Should Irish employers require staff to take a COVID-19 vaccine?

Now that the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is underway, businesses are assessing how the availability of a vaccine influences return to work plans.

What are an employer’s responsibilities?

Health & safety legislation imposes duties on both employers and staff around maintaining a safe place of work. To comply with their duties, many employers will want to encourage employees to take the vaccine as a way of reducing the risk of transmission in the workplace. As the law stands, this approach seems the most appropriate way for employers to incorporate the vaccine into their health & safety planning.

While employers have a duty to provide staff with a safe place of work, the legal position on requiring staff to take the vaccine is not quite so clear cut. There is currently no legal basis for employers to make a vaccine mandatory for employees. Irish citizens are protected by a broad set of personal rights under the Constitution which includes the right to refuse medical treatment.

The Government may seek to restrict constitutional rights in the interest of public health but there’s no history of mandatory vaccination programmes in Ireland to suggest this approach will be adopted.

Mandatory vaccination risks

A mandatory vaccine policy would also introduce various legal risks into the workplace. If an employee who would otherwise not have taken the vaccine suffers an adverse reaction, s/he may seek damages from their employer. Making the vaccine mandatory could also result in a deterioration in employee relations or discrimination claims on the ground of disability or religion.

With all these factors to consider, employers may find that they face a difficult balance to strike. The risk of non-compliance with health & safety legislation will need to be weighed against the risk of undermining employee relations or even personal injuries litigation.

Communicating policies to staff

The Government has forecasted that restrictions will remain in place for a number of months, even with the availability of vaccines. In the meantime, employers should consider engaging with employees and decide how to communicate their policy in relation to COVID-19 vaccination.

As mentioned above, at this early stage, encouraging staff to take COVID-19 vaccinations is a reasonable approach for employers to take as part of efforts to reduce the risks to health & safety in the workplace.

Managing the vaccine rollout in your business

Online tools such as VaccTrak will help you keep track of who’s had the COVID-19 vaccine in your business.

VaccTrak allows you to:

  • Update your employee profiles to easily record who’s had the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Download regular reports to see exactly who’s been vaccinated, so you can keep your people safe during the vaccine roll-out.
  • Download professional letter templates to encourage your staff to have the vaccine.
  • Access our exclusive vaccine awareness course. Share it with your staff to educate them on the vaccine and answer any complex questions.

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Nora Cashe

Peninsula

Nóra studied Law in Griffith College Dublin and qualified as a Barrister in 2008, practising in the area of Criminal law. She is also member of the Irish Employment Law Association.

Nora has extensive experience representing clients at Employment Tribunal hearings, Conciliation / Mediation meetings before both the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court. 

Nóra is a member of the Irish Employment Law Association and engages with the WRC Adjudication Service as part of their stakeholder engagement forum.

Deiric McCann

Genos International Europe

Deiric McCann leads Genos International Europe – The EU division of a world-leading provider of emotional intelligence solutions. 

With over two decades experience at the highest levels of management, Deiric supports clients to develop the resilience, emotional intelligence, psychological safety and engagements of their employees.

Rhiannon Coyne

Graphite HRM

Rhiannon Coyne is a Senior HR Consultant at Graphite HRM and will be providing an overview of best practice on how to deal with complaints of bullying and harassment in the workplace. 

With a number of recent updates to employment laws, Rhiannon will take a closer look at employment equality and how it is interlinked to Health & Safety and what employers can learn from recent case laws.

David Begg

Workplace Relations Commission

David Begg was appointed Chairperson of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) in January 2021.

David is also a professor at Maynooth University Institute of Social Sciences. Mr Begg’s extensive history in the trade union movement included leading the ESB Officers Association and Irish Congress of Trade Unions, stepping away from the latter in 2001 to chair international aid agency Concern.

David Begg was also previously a director of the Central Bank of Ireland between 1995 and 2010.