Employers and employees will require detailed government guidance if so-called covid-19 vaccination passports are introduced in the UK, lawyers’ leaders have warned.
The warning follows the Cabinet Office’s call for evidence on covid-status certification, a process where vaccination data or testing is used to indicate whether individuals have a lower risk of getting sick with or transmitting the novel coronavirus to others.
Ministers are reportedly drawing up a list of “essential” places where vaccine passports would not be required, including hospitals, GP surgeries, and supermarkets, The Times reports, with the prime minister expected to provide an update on the proposals next Monday.
Legal and ethical debate continues around the globe over the potential mandating of employee vaccinations so employers can return their staff to traditional workplaces.
Although US employers appear wary of forcing their staff to vaccinate, recent reports suggest UK companies are seeking legal advice on vaccination-dependent employment contracts, while the Italian government announced plans this week to ensure all health workers are vaccinated.
The Law Society of England and Wales has now published its response to the Cabinet Office consultation, focusing on the potential impact the proposals would have on law firm workplaces.
If the guidance is not comprehensive, there is a risk the objectives of the scheme will not be fulfilled
Chancery Lane said the government should consider what implications the passports would have on existing covid guidance, such as social distancing and workplace testing, and how ministers will ensure workers are not unduly disadvantaged if they do not have instant access to a vaccine.
In evaluating risks to their employees, law firms will wish to understand the arrangements in place for settings in which lawyers regularly work, such as courts, police stations, and places of detention, added the Law Society.
In developing the scheme, the government should take heed of the Equality Act’s prohibition on discriminating against employees for age, race, disability, pregnancy, and religious belief. Carefully consideration must, therefore, be given to the potential impacts on people sharing different protected characteristics and how those impacts could be mitigated, said the solicitors’ representative body.
The Law Society also raised the issue of data protection, stating employers required to check vaccine passports will need to ensure high levels of data security.
“The more detailed the government guidance on how to use the proposed scheme, the more clarity employers and employees will have,” said Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce.
“If the guidance is not comprehensive, there is a risk the objectives of the scheme will not be fulfilled and/or that further strain will be placed on the courts and tribunal system as people seek clarity through litigation. This would not be a good use of an already heavily burdened justice system.”