Majority of firms have no plans to verify employees’ vaccination status, poll finds

As businesses prepare to welcome staff back to the workplace, experts caution they need to be ‘very careful’ when demanding proof of immunity

The majority of firms have no intention of keeping track of their employees’ vaccination status, a poll of businesses has found.

A survey of more than 1,000 UK employers by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) found almost four in five (78 per cent) had no plans to implement ‘vaccine certification’ to verify that employees had had the jab before they returned to the office.

Of the organisations polled, just 5 per cent said they had rules in place requiring customers, suppliers and employees to provide evidence they have received a Covid-19 vaccine, while a further 6 per cent report they were likely to implement similar measures in future.

The figures come just a few days after the prime minister Boris Johnson confirmed plans to drop the government’s advice to work from home wherever possible as early as 21 June, providing that the current easing of coronavirus restrictions continues to go to plan.

In light of its findings, the BCC has called on the government to resolve the ongoing debate around the use of vaccine certification, and to provide clear and decisive guidance to businesses.

Hannah Essex, co-executive director of the BCC, said businesses had been subjected to “a great deal of mixed signals” around whether they can or should require proof of vaccination from customers, suppliers or employees.

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“Our figures show that as it stands, the vast majority of firms have no plans in place for such a scenario. So if the government is indeed planning to make this a requirement in any sector, then it must act rapidly to inform businesses so that they can adjust and prepare,” said Essex.

Rachel Suff, senior employment relations adviser at the CIPD, said employers needed to be “very careful” if demanding proof of vaccination from employees, noting this was sensitive personal health data. “Employers need to comply with data protection rules,” she said.

Suff added that firms currently do not have the legal right to require employees to take a vaccine – something she is keen to emphasise: "The UK government hasn’t made the vaccine compulsory so far, so neither can employers,” she said. “Nor should they be restricting people coming to work based on whether they have had the vaccine.”

Instead, Suff said, businesses should focus on encouraging employees to take the vaccine by providing factual public health information and publicising the benefits. By doing this, she said, it was “likely that some people will make an informed decision based on the need to protect themselves and their colleagues."

With the work from home guidance likely to end next month, Alan Price, CEO of BrightHR, agreed that employers should focus on other methods of mitigating the spread of the virus alongside encouraging staff to take the vaccine by outlining the benefits of doing so. 

“Employers may find it challenging to implement the requirement [for employees] to have been vaccinated in order to work or continue working for them,” he said.

While the BCC’s survey showed most firms had no plans to require employees to provide evidence of having received the vaccine, the vast majority of businesses were planning to continue enforcing other Covid-19-related measures.

More than three-quarters (76 per cent) of respondents said they would maintain or introduce social distancing in the workplace over the coming year; three in five (61 per cent) said they would make hand sanitiser available for employees; and more than half (54 per cent) said they expected face coverings to be worn.

Only 9 per cent of firms said they would not expect any measures to be in place during the next 12 months.