Can your employer force you to get vaccinated? The answer is ‘Maybe’.
While legal and law experts maintain that employees cannot be forced to take vaccines, there is confusion around the issue of mandatory vaccines.
Speaking to the Sunday Times, Ministerial Advisory Committee chairperson, Barry Schoub, said there were talks around the possibility of mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for specific groups; those who spend more time indoors with people and healthcare workers.
The Department of Labour published guidelines on 11 June 2021 stipulating that COVID-19 vaccinations can be made mandatory by employers
KBC Risk Solutions GM, Louise Woodburn, said this is not a blanket policy and companies would need to justify why they would want staff vaccinated.
“They would need to include reasons around including the nature of work and the size of the workforce. For example, a small enterprise where the majority of the workforce is able to operate remotely would not be able to justify this approach, whereas a mining or manufacturing concern would certainly have adequate grounds for such a policy,” she said.
Employee rights and interests
Woodburn said additional factors also need to be considered, such as how this impacts existing health and safety policies, as well as what to do if employees invoke their right not to vaccinate due to religious, personal or medical reasons.
“As the pandemic evolves, the laws around health and safety are changing on an almost daily basis, making this already complex environment more challenging than ever. The right partner is essential in navigating this uncharted landscape and helping employers make the best decisions for their business and their employees,” she said.
Law experts, Webber Wentzel, said employers are warned not to implement mandatory vaccinations and to be aware of balancing employee rights and interests.
“The South African government has stated that it will not enforce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination regime for its citizens. Instead, it is rolling out a programme that encourages citizens to be vaccinated in the interests of public health and safety,” the firm said.
The firm said if an employee refuses the vaccination on constitutional or medical grounds, the employer should investigate the validity and/or reasonableness of the refusal.
“Once the employer determines whether the refusal is valid and reasonable, this could take the form of an investigation, the employer is required to take reasonable measures to accommodate the employee in the workplace,” Webber Wentzel explained.
Currently, just over 10 million vaccines have been administered in SA. Last week, the roll-out was opened to those in the 18-35 age group.