Louise Woodburn, general manager of KBC Solutions, delves into the dos and don’ts of a mandatory vaccination policy.
On June 11, The Department of Labour published guidelines stipulating that Covid-19 vaccinations can be made mandatory by employers. However, this raises several questions, including whether any organisation can implement such a policy and how it should go about doing so.
Additional factors also need to be considered, such as how this impacts existing health and safety policies, as well as what to do if employees invoke their right not to vaccinate for religious, personal or medical reasons.
IT IS NOT A BLANKET POLICY
While the guidelines state that mandatory vaccinations can be implemented by employers, this is by no means a blanket policy that can be unilaterally applied. Employers need to justify their particular circumstances, including the nature of work and the size of the workforce.
For example, a small enterprise where the majority of the workforce can operate remotely would not be able to justify this approach, whereas a mine or manufacturing plant would certainly have adequate grounds for such a policy.
COLLECTIVE AGREEMENTS TAKE PRECEDENCE
Collective agreements that are already in place with unions will always take precedence. Businesses need to work with unions and communicate clearly, engaging with the workforce on the issue. They cannot simply decide to put a mandatory vaccination policy in place.
International standards such as ISO 45000 back up this approach. The ISO standard mandates that a consultative approach be followed and that employers engage with their workforce to create a safe working environment for all.
A RISK ASSESSMENT IS THE FIRST STEP
Before any policy or procedure can be implemented, it is essential to first conduct a risk assessment of the organisation. This incorporates many aspects, including the viability of a remote workforce and continued remote work, the requirement for international travel, the number of vulnerable employees, the number of employees exposed to the public and the effectiveness of personal protective equipment in the environment.
Once the risk assessment has been conducted to determine the need for a mandatory vaccination policy, a plan needs to be formulated to develop clear specifications. This includes how to handle circumstances where individuals will not vaccinate for personal reasons.
The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) precedent demonstrates that individuals cannot be dismissed for refusing to vaccinate, so controls need to be put into place to cater for this eventuality.
EXPERTISE AND SKILLS ARE ESSENTIAL
Unpacking all the requirements to implement any health and safety-related policy can be exceptionally complex; employers simply cannot afford to get it wrong or to be inconsistent. Policies need to include all possibilities and close all loopholes.
An expert partner can assist businesses to ensure they are covering all of their bases, removing areas of doubt by ensuring that the nuances are understood and that guidelines and controls are effectively implemented.
As the pandemic evolves, the laws around health and safety are changing, making this already complex environment more challenging than ever.