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In the recent case of Allette v Scarsdale Grange Nursing Home Ltd, an employment tribunal in Leeds found that a care home employee’s dismissal due to her refusal to receive vaccination against COVID-19 was fair.
The Claimant was dismissed in January 2021, prior to the statutory requirement for care home workers to be vaccinated. Following an outbreak of COVID-19 in the care home in December 2020 – which resulted in the deaths of a number of residents – the care home introduced a mandatory vaccination roll-out for employees and made the decision to make vaccination against COVID-19 a condition of continued employment in order to protect staff, residents and visitors.
The Claimant initially informed her employer that she did not feel safe receiving the vaccine due to the speed of the roll-out and due to government related conspiracy theories she had read on the internet. The care home initiated a disciplinary procedure when the Claimant refused to be vaccinated. The Claimant later asserted during the disciplinary procedure that her refusal was due to a religious objection to the vaccine based on her Rastafarianism; this was the first point at which her employer had been notified of her religion.
Following the disciplinary procedure, the care home made the decision to dismiss the Claimant as her refusal to be vaccinated was posing a risk to residents. Furthermore, the care home’s public liability insurance would not cover COVID-19 related risks after March 2021, and in particular where an unvaccinated employee was found to have infected a resident or a visitor with COVID-19. The Claimant subsequently lodged claims of unfair and wrongful dismissal against the care home.
The Tribunal dismissed both claims and found that the care home had a legitimate aim when introducing compulsory vaccinations and dismissing the Claimant as it was acting in the interests of the health of residents and on the basis that an unvaccinated employee may leave the care home potentially directly liable for any transmission of COVID-19 from said employee to a resident or visitor as their insurance policy would not cover such an event.
The Tribunal also considered whether it was a breach of the Claimant’s right to respect for private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Although the Tribunal acknowledged that there had been an interference with the Claimant’s convention rights, it found that the Claimant’s dismissal was a proportionate response and the interference with the Claimant’s private life was justified due to the vulnerability of the patients to whom the care home had a duty of care.
The Tribunal also found that the Claimant’s apprehension about receiving the vaccine was not founded on any medical basis and that it was not sufficient to just be sceptical of the vaccine roll-out and the government advice in order to reasonably refuse to comply with the care home’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy.
It is important to note that the Tribunal’s decision in this case may be appealed by the Claimant and has not yet set a legal precedent that can be relied upon. It is, however, a useful indication as to how tribunals may deal with mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies in the workplace which are not required by law.
This case is likely the first of many tribunal findings in relation to workplace enforcement of vaccinations. In November 2021, it became a statutory requirement for care home workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 which was a key step in protecting care home operators, their staff and their residents against the risks posed by COVID-19.
This article has been produced for general information purposes and further advice should be sought from a professional advisor. If you need any advice in relation to unfair dismissal or other employment law related issues, please do not hesitate to contact our Employment team.