Equality watchdog backs mandatory vaccinations for care home workers

But EHRC says safeguards are needed to prevent unlawful discrimination, and warns against other firms adopting ‘no jab, no job’ policies

The UK’s equality watchdog has backed mandatory vaccinations of employees working at care homes.

In a submission to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said it was “reasonable to require” care home workers who work directly with older and disabled people to be vaccinated.

Responding to the DHSC’s consultation on making vaccinations compulsory for older adult care home workers, the EHRC said the government was “right to prioritise protection of the right to life” when legislating for mandatory vaccination.

“In our view it is therefore reasonable to require care home staff to be vaccinated in order to work directly with older and disabled people, subject to some important safeguards to ensure the requirement remains proportionate and to minimise the risk of unlawful discrimination or breaches of care workers’ human rights,” the report, seen by People Management, stated.

These safeguards include a legislative exemption for individuals who cannot receive the vaccine for medical reasons, mitigating the risk of indirect discrimination and covering expenses for those who need to travel to get the jab.

The EHRC also said statutory sick pay should remain in place for those who suffer from a reaction to the vaccine.

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A spokesperson for the EHRC said mandating vaccines for care home staff offered a way of protecting older residents who were most at risk. “This would support their right to a private and family life, to health, to live independently, as well as reducing the risk to workers,” they said, adding that a hepatitis B vaccination is already an essential requirement in some NHS Trusts.

“Any requirements should be implemented proportionately with exemptions for the small number of people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons,” they added.

However, the EHRC stopped short of supporting a vaccination mandate for other employers.

In a separate submission to the Cabinet Office as part of its consultation on coronavirus status certificates – also known as Covid passports – the EHRC acknowledged that mandating vaccination for care home workers would be a “significant departure from current public health policy”.

“Any approach employers take around requiring mandatory vaccination as a condition of employment must ensure that it can be objectively justified, and is applied in a proportionate manner – in this case, likely to be based on the greater risk of illness and death faced by care home residents,” it said.

While employers are “right to want to protect their staff and customers”, the EHRC said firms planning to implement ‘no jab, no job’ policies needed to ensure they still met their obligations under the Equalities Act. And a “blanket policy” requiring workers to be vaccinated, could be “unlawful” if applied inflexibly, it said.

The watchdog also called on the government to provide “clear guidance to employers […] referencing equality and human rights standards to ensure consistency and compliance while limiting the potential for discrimination”.