The RCN recommends taking up vaccination as best practice. However, we recognise that some members might choose not to be vaccinated and the questions and answers below are for their assistance.
As a health and social care worker do I have to have the vaccine?
No-one can be forced to have medical treatment - including vaccines - and the UK governments are not making it mandatory for health and social care workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. However, there may be consequences for you at work if you have not been vaccinated and your employer can show that you present a risk to patients or clients as a result.
Can my employer dismiss me if I am not vaccinated?
If your employer considers that you present an unacceptable risk of infection to patients because you have refused the vaccine, in some circumstances they may even be able to dismiss you under the heading of ‘some other substantial reason.’ For the dismissal to be fair, the employer would have to act reasonably and consult with you before making a final decision. For example, they would need to:
- provide you with their reasons for their requirement that you are vaccinated
- give you the opportunity to state your concerns, and
- consider other alternatives.
This risk assessment could include consideration of whether you could be redeployed to a place where you did not present an unacceptable risk or whether any risks could be reasonably mitigated through testing and PPE.
If your employer is taking action against you for refusing to be vaccinated, call us on 0345 7726100.
What if I am refusing vaccination because of my religion and belief?
If you are subjected to a detriment as a result of your decision not to receive a vaccine - or even dismissed - and the reason for your refusal is related to your religion and belief, you may have a claim for discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. Your employer would need to show that they had tried to accommodate you. Your employer may and try and defend their actions on the basis that they had good reason for the decision, and it is proportionate. This is known as “objective justification”.
What if I am refusing the vaccination because of a medical issue?
If you are subjected to a detriment as a result of your decision not to receive a vaccine - or even dismissed - and the reason for your refusal is related your disability, you may have a claim for discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. Your employer would need to show that they had made reasonable adjustments in all the ways suggested above. Your employer may and try and defend their actions on the basis that they had good reason for the decision, and it is proportionate. This is known as “objective justification”.
Other medical issues give rise to a recommendation that you do not receive a vaccine. Your GP may make such a recommendation, or national guidance may be in place.
Conception, pregnancy and breastfeeding: Please see the RCOG guidance on COVID-19 vaccines, pregnancy and breastfeeding and our section on vaccination and pregnancy above.
Serious allergy: Anyone with a previous history of allergic reactions to the ingredients of the Pfizer BioNtech vaccine should not receive it, but those with any other allergies such as a food allergy can now have that vaccine. See this guidance for more.
If you intend to refuse a vaccine on medical grounds you may require a GP report to support this. As with any medical information, your medical reason for refusal should be treated in strictest confidence by your employer, following occupational health guidance.
If you refuse a vaccine on medical grounds and this leads to a dispute with your employer, please contact us on 0345 7726100 for advice and support.
Does it make a difference if I work in the NHS or for an independent sector employer?
Your employer will need to undertake a risk assessment that will consider both the risk you present and steps that can be taken to mitigate these risks. For example, these steps may include:
- considering redeployment to a lower risk area
- a continued requirement for COVID-19 testing, and
- the wearing of PPE.
It is important to recognise that smaller independent employers may not have the capacity to implement measures that larger employers can offer. The ongoing provision of PPE and testing for staff who refuse the vaccine will add additional financial outlays for the employer which may not be considered a reasonable adjustment in the long-term.
Could I be breaching the NMC Code of conduct if I decline to be vaccinated?
Under the NMC Code all registered nurses have a duty to preserve safety. You must take all reasonable precautions necessary to avoid any potential health risks to others. Whilst receiving the vaccine will not be mandatory, you must work with your employer to mitigate the risks if you have not been vaccinated. It is difficult to predict what this might mean as the pandemic enters new stages, but it could include redeployment to areas with less vulnerable patients, regular testing and the ongoing use of PPE even when other staff are not required to make use of those precautions. Provided that you cooperate with your employer to avoid exposing others to risk, you should be deemed compliant with the Code.
I declined the vaccine and I have fallen ill with COVID-19. My employer says that I will not receive full sick pay. What can I do?
You will be paid statutory sick pay, but your employer may try to argue that any discretionary element of your sick pay could be withheld. The RCN position is that uptake of the vaccine is voluntary and should not be connected with any sick pay. You should check your employment contract to determine what sick pay is owed to you contractually.
If you are unable to resolve the issue, you should contact us for assistance and a claim for unlawful deduction of wages may be considered. Call us on 0345 7726100.