Coronavirus vaccines have been dominating news headlines for the last few months as more people continue to receive the jab.
Overseas, several companies have announced that they are helping their employees to get coronavirus vaccines.
A recent example of this is the tech giant Apple who is reportedly launching a programme to help staff members get vaccinated against coronavirus, according to Bloomberg reports.
And although jabs aren’t available for companies to offer to staff in the UK, one lawyer suggests that such ‘sped up’ programmes are likely to have massive implications for flexible working and benefits going forward.
Do vaccines spell the end of flexible work?
Apple’s staff jab offer comes after the California-headquartered firm encouraged workers to get vaccines and offered sick leave for the days missed – either when taking the shot or to recover from symptoms they may experience.
And the tech giant’s new voluntary programme could encourage more staff to return to the office in future.
Though, people familiar with the matter said that Apple has not yet asked workers to return, according to Bloomberg, neither is an immediate return to the office required for signing up for a vaccine via this programme.
However, Bianca Martin, Employment Lawyer at A City Law Firm went on to explain that if companies were to offer vaccines – or that enough staff had received vaccines via the NHS in the UK – companies might start thinking about ending remote and flexible work.
She said: “It may be easier for employers to reduce the flexibility of home working after a greater proportion of their employees are vaccinated as employees will have little excuse to remain at home once the guidance changes from ‘work at home if you can'.
“We would expect employers to have a policy drafted on this in line with their employee contracts,” the legal expert concluded.
Additionally, employers might start thinking about their vaccine offers – whether it’s a jab itself in the US or days off to get it as a benefit.
Martin continued that it could be perceived as a staff benefit “if employees have been unable to obtain the vaccine elsewhere”.
“In the UK this may not have such an appeal if employees have free access to the vaccines on the NHS.”
Could employers start to offer this in the UK?
While the reports of Apple’s vaccination programme for office staff took place overseas, it is possible that this could have wider implications on the future of work if similar approaches or programmes were adopted in the UK going forwards.
Martin explained that at the moment, vaccines in the UK are provided by the NHS and that it is not possible to obtain a vaccine privately.
She said: “It is likely to be some time before vaccines are available privately, given that there would need to be a significant increase in their current availability.
“Both Pfizer and AstraZeneca have confirmed that their vaccines will not currently be rolled out to the private sector.
“It may be that this changes once all age groups have been offered the vaccine under the NHS, but we are yet to see this.”
Would this create legal issues if it was offered in the UK?
An additional question that HR and employers may be keen to find out is whether this would create legal issues if it was offered in the UK in this same way.
Martin said that she does not see a problem with an employer offering the vaccine to staff members after the NHS rollout of the vaccine is complete.
“It is likely that there will be limited vocations where employers can mandate that employees get vaccinated, and so in other workplaces if an employer simply offers the vaccine and the employee decides whether or not to take up the offer then there should be no issue,” the legal expert continued.
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“If employers were to obtain vaccines privately and offer these to employees before the NHS vaccine roll out has finished however then there may be an argument that this is not equitable. At this stage it seems unlikely that the vaccines will be available for employers to purchase privately.”