Fixer: Can we force jabbed staff to sit near unvaccinated colleagues?

Employees have complained about the risk to their health

After working from home throughout the pandemic, we recently brought our workforce of 200 back to the office, which people generally seem to be happy to do. However, we all sit in an open-plan space with not much extra capacity, and some staff who are double vaccinated against Covid have complained about sitting close to unvaccinated colleagues. Is there anything we can do to alleviate their concerns? We obviously don’t want to start segregating everyone depending on their vaccination status, but I can understand their worries.

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve advised our clients to complete a Covid risk assessment and, if you have not already done so, we would suggest starting by doing the same here. On the risk assessment, list out the risks and the potential mitigations that you could put in place. By going through this process and communicating it to those who have raised this as an issue, hopefully you will be able to address some of those concerns.

It’s not clear whether you’ve agreed to a hybrid working approach, or if something like that is feasible for your organisation, but some open-plan offices are doing team rotas, so some teams come in on certain days and others on other days. This could help with the capacity issue that you mentioned and help to create more space.

If this is not an option, you could consider putting extra partitions in place across the whole office and/or increasing ventilation. It’s always helpful to share some general awareness information about vaccinations, testing, etc. with the whole team, so everyone feels informed and reassured.

Ultimately, unless you are in an occupation where the government has mandated vaccinations, it would be risky to implement a ‘no jab, no job’ policy or to isolate those who have chosen not to get vaccinated. You have already said that you don’t want to segregate people, nor would we advocate that as an effective solution. This is a polarising issue and one that we never thought we’d have to address as HR professionals but it is also one that will hopefully not last forever.

Husband and wife team Rob and Nicci Birley have run their own full service HR consultancy, Cornerstone Resources, since late 2017, partnering with small businesses and charities throughout the UK. Prior to this, they both spent more than 20 years each working in a range of specialist and generalist HR roles across a range of sectors.

Nicci specialises in management coaching, mentoring, recruitment, change management and improving organisational performance. Rob specialises in complex employee issues and salaries, pensions and benefits.

Their replies are written in a personal capacity and do not reflect the views of People Management or the CIPD, nor are they a substitute for professional legal advice. Not all queries submitted can be answered, and personal replies are not possible. To pose an anonymous query, visit