In the first reported case on the point, an Employment Tribunal has recently considered the issue of mandatory vaccination, in Allette v Scarsdale Grange Nursing Home Ltd, and found that a care assistant was fairly dismissed by a nursing home due to her refusal to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The events of the case took place a year ago, before legislation had been introduced to make vaccination mandatory in the care home sector (although that may now be repealed).
The Tribunal concluded that the nursing home’s mandatory vaccination policy was a reasonable management instruction, and did not unjustly interfere with the employee’s Article 8 (ECHR) right to privacy. The instruction was particularly justified, given there had been a COVID outbreak within the home at the time and the mortality risk of the care home residents was high, some having already died. It was also the case that the home’s public liability insurers had threatened to remove cover if unvaccinated staff were allowed to work.
The Tribunal balanced the employer’s concerns against the employee’s reason for refusal, which was a concern about the safety of the vaccine. They found that this was not a good enough reason in the circumstances. The employee belatedly raised her religious beliefs (she was Rastafarian), but the Tribunal was not convinced this was genuinely a part of her reasons for refusing. All in all, the Tribunal said that the employer’s decision to dismiss (summarily) was within the range of reasonable responses, and so the dismissal was fair.
The circumstances in which this dismissal took place may be of limited wider application outside the care home sector, where the risk of serious harm to residents at that time (early 2021) was particularly severe. An office-based employer will not have the same justification for a mandatory vaccination policy. However, the case is the first decision we have on the point and it offers a useful insight into the considerations a Tribunal will take into account when assessing the reasonableness of a mandatory vaccination policy.