One in seven executives would be willing to dismiss any employee who refused to get Covid-19 vaccination
By Niamh Horan
Ireland’s company bosses are terrified of the legal “minefield” over the status of unvaccinated workers as they prepare to return to the office this autumn.
A new study of 600 Irish CEOs has found the vast majority (86pc) are anticipating increased costs for their company in order to avoid any legal action associated with Covid-19.
Under current Government guidelines, employees can make “their own decision” on whether to be vaccinated — unless they work in health and laboratory sector workplaces.
However, the legal restrictions preventing employers from asking employees about their vaccination status is creating “significant challenges” for 71pc of organisations, according to research conducted by HRLocker, an HR software solutions company based in Lahinch, Co Clare.
The findings show over half of those questioned (53pc) say the lack of insight into their employees’ vaccination status has delayed plans to reopen offices, while over a third (34pc) say it has “negatively impacted” employee relations within their workforce.
The risk of legal action is the greatest worry among respondents, with almost half (47pc) concerned they could be subject to legal claims from employees.
These include claims directly arising from contracting Covid-19, or indirectly as a result of stress relating to an employee’s well-being.
The latest findings give an insight into the problems ahead for Irish companies who want their staff to return to the office.
Asked if they believe their employees wished to return to the office, 84pc of respondents answered ‘yes’, while 78pc stated their teams desired the introduction of a hybrid model.
The survey also found 15pc of executives would be willing to dismiss an employee who refused to get vaccinated without a reasonable excuse, if they were legally protected.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, one small business owner, who wishes to remain anonymous, shared his concern over the lack of Government guidance after several of his staff told him they had decided against the vaccine.
“Since informing me of their decision I have told them to stay away from the office and I have made the decision that none of them will be allowed to meet clients face to face,” he said.
“Legally I don’t think I can ask employees outright if they have been vaccinated, but I have been trying to casually find out through different team members.
“I am a small employer and this is already a minefield, so I would really like the Government to take this decision out of my hands. I’m sure most employers would feel the same. The Government has been able to dictate on so many other areas during the pandemic, so they can dictate on this.”
Revealing his apprehension about the problem as his staff prepare to return to the office, he said: “Some of my staff who are not vaccinated are not on permanent contracts and in another month or two I will probably have to terminate their employment (citing a different reason).
“I am in the service industry and I have to mitigate the risks for the rest of the team and for our clients.”
In New York, Wall Street banks are leading the way in requiring proof of vaccination from employees after the BioNTech/Pfizer jab received full regulatory approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Goldman Sachs said the requirement would apply to any individual coming into their offices from September 7 and any employees who were not fully vaccinated would be expected to work from home.
The company will include fully vaccinated staff in its mandatory weekly Covid testing programme, which currently applies to staff who are either partly or fully vaccinated.
Elsewhere, Delta Air Lines has notified employees they will face $200 monthly increases on their health insurance premiums from November if they are not fully vaccinated, citing steep costs to cover employees who are hospitalised with the virus. Unvaccinated employees will also face other restrictions, including wearing masks indoors.
The issue of whether employers can ask employees if they have been vaccinated gained international prominence after US media giant CNN terminated the contracts of those who returned to their offices unvaccinated.
Contact HRLocker to learn more about how we can help you to manage vaccinations and employees.