How to handle vaccine hesitancy at work

vaccine hesitancy
© Rui G. Santos

Alan Price, CEO at BrightHR, discusses how employers and HR departments can handle vaccine hesitancy in the workplace

With over 9 million people in the UK given the first COVID vaccine dose, employers are now one step closer to their business operations resuming. And while mass vaccination will take time, some staff will likely be more eager to get the vaccine sooner than others or at all, but how can employers and HR handle vaccine hesitancy in the workplace?

What approach should employers take towards the vaccine with their employees?

The government has not chosen to make COVID-19 vaccine mandatory. Despite this, some industry sectors may want to implement a requirement for its staff to have the vaccine for safety reasons. This may apply to operators in the care sector, where maintaining social distancing and adhering to other safety measures while looking after vulnerable individuals is not possible.

In workplaces that do not involve care, such as offices or retail, it may be considerably more challenging to try and put such a restriction in place because of the ability to have employees working from or maintain social distancing in other ways to mitigate the risk. To this end, it is highly advisable to focus more on encouraging staff to take the vaccine instead of trying to enforce it. If a company does try to go down an enforcement route, they should clearly outline why they feel this is necessary.

How can employers encourage their employees to have the vaccine?

The most appropriate course of action for employers appears to be to encourage staff to have the vaccine through awareness campaigns, focusing on the benefits of doing so. It should be made clear to staff through a policy that while they will not be forced to take it, there are many benefits for doing so.

It should also be considered if external trainers and e-learning programmes may be required to explain further why the vaccines are safe and effective. Alternatively, employees can be encouraged to make an informed decision about having the vaccine by reading information from official sources, alongside a cautionary note to verify the source of their reading matter due to the existence of uncertified information.

How to manage employees who are hesitant about getting the vaccine?

Firstly, it should be remembered that there could be many reasons why employees do not want to take the vaccine; they may have been advised not to due to a pre-existing medical condition, or due to their religious beliefs. If employees are subjected to a detriment as a result of this or other such reasons, the organisation may face a costly discrimination claim.

To this end, it is essential to listen to their concerns and navigate them to appropriate information to alleviate these. For example, religious groups across the UK have given their blessing to all the COVID vaccines currently available and are keen to encourage individuals from every community to get one when offered.


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