Does the NEU advise members to accept the Covid-19 vaccination, including boosters?

Yes absolutely, The NEU strongly urges all members who have not yet been vaccinated to accept the offer, including boosters. This will not only protect individuals, but it will also help protect colleagues, pupils and whole communities, including those who for medical reasons are genuinely unable to receive the vaccine.

The vaccine will only successfully reduce the impact of the virus, diminishing its capacity to kill or cause serious illness and opening the possibility of a more normal life, with the widest possible take-up. Vaccination protects individuals but also helps break chains of transmission, so the NEU expects that employers will want to continue to encourage and support maximum take up.

The NEU will seek to counter any disinformation about the vaccine which might promote misplaced fear and impede the success of the vaccine roll-out. Most mainstream religions do not oppose vaccination. Employers should also ensure that accurate information about the vaccine and its benefits are clearly communicated to all staff. Developing policies around vaccination in consultation with union reps and staff will help to keep everyone on board.

Can my employer insist that I am vaccinated against Covid-19 when my turn comes?

Employers have legal duties to protect the health and safety of their employees, so many will wish to encourage and assist employees to be vaccinated and the NEU would support this given our view that all employees able to receive the vaccine should do so.

However, vaccination remains voluntary in the education sector. So, ​for employees in almost all education establishments, employers cannot require this and should not press anyone unable to receive the vaccine for medical reasons to be vaccinated against medical advice.  ​   

Different rules apply to employees who perform some duties in the care sector, where employers are required by law to ensure that all staff are vaccinated apart from those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons. This requirement is likely to cover employees in, for example, most residential special schools who have contact with resident students.

Should pregnant women be vaccinated?

One in six of the most critically ill Covid-19 patients in England in recent months have been unvaccinated pregnant women so vaccination for this category is really important.

The situation with regard to pregnant women and vaccination changed in April 2021. See this briefing from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists for further details. Prior to 16 April, the advice of the JCVI was that only pregnant women at high risk of exposure to the virus or with high-risk medical conditions should consider having a Covid-19 vaccine in pregnancy.

Since 16 April, the JCVI has advised that the vaccine should be offered to pregnant women at the same time as the rest of the population, based on their age and clinical risk group. Precautions for pregnant women should continue to be addressed as per joint union advice.

Can an employer take any form of action affecting an employee who refuses to be vaccinated?

It is unlikely that an education employer would be able to justify any disciplinary action against an employee on the basis that they have refused to accept the vaccine if no Government requirement exists for that member of staff to be vaccinated (see above).

Some employees - in particular, those known to be at greater risk from Covid-19 should they contract it - may, however, express concern at working closely with unvaccinated adult colleagues. In such situations, the employer is required to explore measures that should be taken to protect those individuals' health and safety, which might potentially involve changes to working arrangements for either member of staff involved. There should be a full discussion involving both individuals in such circumstances.

When recruiting externally can an employer specify ‘no jab no job’?

It may be that some employers when recruiting do not wish to offer employment to someone who has refused vaccination without sound medical justification. It is possible that an employer could include such a term in a contract. They would need to be aware of possible discriminatory implications for some new starters.

Should I be given paid time off for vaccination appointments?

Most reasonable employers are likely to want to support the national push for vaccination and to allow employees not already vaccinated paid leave to attend their appointments, where appointments need to take place during the working day.  Most education employers allow paid time off for medical appointments which must necessarily take place during working hours in any case. We would expect all employers to accept that time off work may be needed, that such leave should be paid, including for supply staff, and not to quibble over the appointment time. Asking employees to reschedule their appointments outside working hours will reflect badly on employers, given the administrative burden on the NHS of having to rearrange appointments.

Vaccine-related absences

Moreover, one way of encouraging the vaccine on the part of employers would be for them to make clear that any vaccine-related absences won't be reported as sick leave or won't count towards trigger days in respect of absence management procedures. We would also expect that supply teachers should be paid normally if they do have side effects rather than losing a day’s pay.

Members who have an extreme reaction to the Covid-19 vaccine and develop conditions or experience the worsening of underlying conditions as a result should receive the same support as members with suspected or confirmed Long covid. Whilst very rare, such cases should be treated sympathetically by employers who, once again, should observe the principle that it would be unreasonable for Covid-19 related absences of any sort to trigger absence monitoring procedures.

Should staff be told by their employer who has been vaccinated and who hasn’t?

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) issues arise here. Information about being vaccinated (or not) is sensitive personal health data that cannot be shared by a data controller with those other than the data subject.

To ensure employee support about declaring vaccine status, employers should revise their Privacy Notices so that employees are confident that their vaccine status will not be shared without their consent.

Should staff who have chosen not to be vaccinated (rather than been advised not to be vaccinated for medical reasons) receive full pay if they have to isolate as a result of being a close contact of a confirmed case?

The NEU believes that allowing such staff to isolate in accordance with Government advice, on the basis that they are then available and required to work from home on full pay, is appropriate from a public health point of view.  

Otherwise, some such staff might be tempted to come into work, potentially then spreading the virus. Employers who seek to withhold pay from such staff on the basis that their absence is due to refusing the vaccine rather than being in contact with a confirmed case should be aware that the LGA has advised employers that this may not be supported by the courts. The NEU also argues that staff who are unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons should also be allowed to work from home on full pay if they are a close contact of a confirmed case, despite Government advice that they can attend work.

What advice is there for schools about the coronavirus vaccination programme for 12-15 and 16-17 year olds?

The DfE has published comprehensive guidance here about the vaccination programme for 12-15 year olds. 

It is estimated that a 60% vaccine uptake among healthy 12- to 15-year-olds will reduce confirmed cases of COVID-19 in this group in the period up to 31 March 2022 by 33%. This equates to a reduction of 110,000 school days absent in this age group due to confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Research shows that those who do become infected 3 weeks after receiving one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or AstraZeneca vaccine are between 38% and 49% less likely to pass the virus on to their household contacts than those who are unvaccinated.

16 and 17 year olds are already being offered a vaccination through the adult vaccination system. The NHS will contact 16 and 17 year olds when it’s their turn to get the vaccine, and they will be invited to a local NHS service such as a GP surgery. Additionally, some walk-in COVID-19 vaccination sites are offering the vaccine to people aged 16 and 17 years.