What advice does the NEU offer on vaccination? 

See NEU detailed advice on vaccination below. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation decided to move ahead with vaccination based on age as the quickest way to reduce deaths and hospitalisations, but the NEU will continue to press for education staff to be vaccinated as soon as possible to ensure full attendance from 8 March is both safe and sustainable.

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

The NEU strongly urges all members who are able to receive the vaccine to take it. This will not only protect individuals, it will help protect colleagues, pupils and whole communities, including those who for medical reasons are genuinely unable to receive the vaccine. Research suggests that education staff are at a greater risk than the general population of contracting coronavirus and this makes it all the more important that take-up of the vaccine among education staff is high.

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 encourage and support maximum participation.

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 a duty under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 to protect the health and safety of their employees, so far as is reasonably practicable. Employees also have duties under health and safety law to take reasonable care for their own health and safety and that of others who may be affected by their acts or omissions at work. Those who cannot receive the vaccine for medical reasons are entitled to expect their employer to maintain as safe a working environment as possible

So, employers may seek to argue that in order to fulfil these legal duties, as well as to prevent continuing disruption to education, employees need to accept the offer of vaccination when it is made, unless there are medical contraindications. It would be unreasonable for any employer to seek to insist that someone unable to receive the vaccine for medical reasons should be vaccinated, against medical advice. 

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.

For NEU members who are at higher risk and have been working from home, for example the clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV), or those who have been working from home because of a CEV household member, a refusal to be vaccinated without good reason, or a refusal on the part of the CEV household member to be vaccinated, could present obstacles in terms of being permitted to continue to work from home in the longer term.

Can an employer discipline an employee for refusing to be vaccinated?

It is arguable that if an employer requests that employees accept the vaccine, a refusal to do so could be deemed to be a refusal to follow a reasonable management instruction, with refusal not supported by a genuine or non-discriminatory reason, which could leave an individual open to disciplinary action.

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 paid leave to attend their appointments. It is likely that most school staff will be offered a vaccination appointment which could be during school/college hours. 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.