According to a company memo reported by Reuters, employees of Citigroup in the USA will be placed on unpaid leave if they were not been vaccinated by 14 Jan 2022, writes Rhian Radia, Partner and Head of the Employment team at solicitors Bishop and Sewell.
Workers can allegedly apply for exemptions on religious or medical grounds:
“You are welcome to apply for other roles at Citi in the future as long as you are compliant with Citi’s vaccination policy,” the alleged memo reads.
“If you are not vaccinated, we urge you to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”
Although other banks on Wall Street have adopted COVID-19 vaccine policies, such as Goldman Sachs requiring staff to disclose whether they have had the vaccination, none have mandated anything as stringent as this.
Here in the UK the government has passed an amendment to The Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) Regulations 2014, meaning that two vaccinations against COVID-19 is required for those employed care settings in England. This will also become compulsory for NHS workers in England from 1 April 2022 unless they are exempt or are not in patient facing roles.
The NHS is its own place, however, different to other workplaces where a mandatory vaccine policy can be linked to health and safety concerns. Also, the NHS will be able to justify dismissals on grounds of illegality. Where NHS employees refuse to disclose their vaccination status, dismissal could potentially be justified using the catch all “some other substantial reason” for dismissal category.
This matter has only become more controversial since the latest evidence on the impact of only two vaccines on the Omicron variant and the lower likelihood of hospitalisations from the milder variant. In other words, the case for bringing in the legislation had a limited shelf life and in the rapidly changing Covid world may already be out of date.
It is ironic that health and safety concerns which were key to the introduction of the legislation could now be exacerbated by potential staff shortages due to the dismissal of unvaccinated NHS staff.
Making enquiries of employees about their vaccination status potentially causes issues in itself. From the point at which an employer knows about an employee’s vaccination status, they have the knowledge element required for a discrimination claim. They will also need to consider carefully how to handle this sensitive personal data being mindful of GDPR obligations.
Mandatory vaccine policies in other workplaces carries increased risk of claims for discrimination on grounds of disability, maternity or religious/philosophical belief, age or race. These discrimination claims could arise from matters which stop short of dismissal such as bullying, exclusion or taking disciplinary action. Discrimination is often done in a subtle way.
Like in many other areas, the vaccination issue is causing divisions in the workplace which look unlikely to go away.
About Bishop & Sewell LLP
Bishop & Sewell is a long-established, full service Central London law firm – with an international reach – specialising in Personal, Property and Commercial legal matters. To learn more, visit www.bishopandsewell.co.uk