health

UK bosses set up IT systems to track Covid vaccine status of staff


Employers are creating vaccine databases of their workers to track who has been inoculated against the coronavirus.

With some companies announcing they would either sack or refuse to hire people who will not take a Covid-19 vaccine, others are using IT systems to create a form of vaccine passport in the workplace to monitor the number of staff who have had the jab.

Workday, which provides payroll and other human resources software to 1,300 companies in the UK, and BrightHR, which works with 70,000 small businesses around the world, have both rolled out monitoring tools this month.

BrightHR’s VaccTrak has been used so far by 1,200 people working in health and social care to inform their employers they have been vaccinated.

James Potts, BrightHR’s legal services director, said: “There’s a huge amount of knotty issues to navigate our way through. VaccTrak is a feature we think will provide employers invaluable support.”

He said the system provided a database for employers, as well as e-learning courses about the vaccines, “to dispel any myths”.

“We are helping employers define their own policy on the vaccine,” he said. “It’s not for us to dictate or make any kind of moral judgments. We don’t make decisions for our clients, but we want to help them to implement a policy.”

Businesses want to be able to use the tools to tell customers or new staff that all their staff are vaccinated, which Potts said could potentially allow them to bring staff back to the office without having strict infection control measures.

“If one employee says, ‘No, I’m not going to take it and I want you to keep those control measures in place’, I could see a scenario where [the business] might say to that employee, ‘Well, we think it’s a reasonable management instruction’,” Potts said.

Some companies have already announced they will take a tough line. One London plumbing firm said it would rewrite existing contracts so workers were obliged to have the vaccine, once it becomes widely available. Saga has made vaccination mandatory for all its cruise ship passengers, and said crew will be inoculated as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, Barchester Healthcare, which runs more than 200 care homes in the UK, has said it will not hire anyone who had refused the vaccine for non-medical reasons.

However, firms that sack or sideline employees who refuse to take the vaccine may be vulnerable to claims of discrimination or unfair dismissal, according to Jeremy Coy, a solicitor specialising in employment at Russell-Cooke.

Employees could claim discrimination on grounds of religion, if they believe the substance of the vaccine was incompatible with their faith, or disability, if they had evidence the vaccine might have harmful side-effects for them, Coy said.

Workers who have been employed for less than two years cannot bring an employment tribunal claim for unfair dismissal, although they can if they face discrimination.

“But someone who had been there more than two years and are told, ‘get a vaccination or else’, it could be they have quite a strong claim for unfair dismissal,” Coy said.

One of the problems for employers is that there is little scientific evidence so far that any of the vaccines in the UK prevent transmission, which undermines the argument that someone should take the vaccine to make customers or other employees safer.

The government has so far ruled out implementing vaccine passports to allow international travel because of lack of evidence around transmission.

Ben Willmott, head of public policy at HR association CIPD, the association of HR professionals, said that employers should try to persuade reluctant workers rather than force them.

“The role of employers is quite similar to the approach that many take with the flu vaccine: educate, encourage and try to build trust,” he said.

Employers should continue to make their workplaces Covid-secure and make reasonable adjustments for people who might be at risk, allowing people to work from home if they want to, he said.



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