With a few days until the 16 September deadline for care employees to have their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, employers in the care sector will soon be required to start dismissal proceedings for staff refusing the vaccine, however many are unsure on the correct course of action.
A study from Citation found almost 60% of employers in the care sector are concerned about what processes to take for unvaccinated workers.
The new rules, which are due to come into force from 11 November, state that anyone working in a Care Quality Commission-registered adult care home in England must have two vaccine doses unless they are medically exempt. Those who aren’t exempt, or fully vaccinated, will not be able to enter the workplace.
Care home operators are already seeing a staffing shortfall due to staff burnout from Covid-19 challenges* and many fear the introduction of compulsory vaccination will cause many employees to leave or be forced out by dismissals.The government’s impact statement on the new rules estimated that the move was likely to see 40,000 workers leave the sector but conceded that this could be as high as 70,000 with an average cost to care businesses of £2500 per worker.
Of those surveyed, 60% of employers said they were worried that the compulsory vaccine would make it more difficult to attract and retain staff. With four in ten of employers in the industry unsure of the company’s existing employment retention rate, it will be difficult for them to understand how serious the impact will be.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, care home operators have worked hard to make workplaces Covid-19 safe, with 90% of employers training up on preventative Health and Safety measures. Now, business leaders are being required to learn additional processes and legal requirements to ensure all staff are vaccinated.
Many operators use external companies to manage Health and Safety policies. Although 63% of care providers stated that this gives them confidence they are meeting all legal requirements, more than 80% of all employers still have worries with the constant changes of rules.
Gill McAeer, head of employment law at Citation, answers some common concerns from employers in the industry, on how to deal with unvaccinated staff and manage staff shortfall as a result of its impact:
Employees refusing to be vaccinated
There is an eight week minimum requirement in between vaccine doses which means employees must have had their first jab by 16 September to ensure they have had their second eight weeks later by 11 November when the rules come into force.
As we are now so close to the September deadline, employers are now able to start dismissal proceedings for those who refuse to be vaccinated unless they are medically exempt. For those refusing the vacination, employers need to clearly explain the consequences of not having it, leaving the employee with the option of either voluntarily leaving, or being forced out by dismissal.
If the latter occurs, employers must ensure they have properly explained the process to the staff member, and ensure a fair process is followed.
Employees who are going to be vaccinated but will miss the 16 September deadline
The rules don’t come into effect until 11 November so an employee can continue working until this date. If the employee will be fully vaccinated within a reasonable period of time after the deadline, they can agree with their employer to take annual leave or unpaid leave from 11 November, until they are fully vaccinated.
It’s important to remember that after 11 November, even if an employee has had their first jab, they will not be allowed to enter the workplace until they have had their second.
One of the biggest challenges for care businesses is that although they are required to obtain evidence of their workers’ vaccination or exemption status, the government has still not produced the promised guidance setting out the conditions which will be medically exempt, how employees can apply for exemption status and what evidence employers can accept as evidence of exemption. Citation have seen many care employers faced with resistance on the basis of ‘self-declared exemption’. This is not contemplated under the regulations and clarification of the medical exemption process is needed urgently.
Replacing dismissed staff members
As the deadline for the first vaccine is so close, employers already have an idea of how many staff they are likely to lose as a result of vaccine requirements.
Non-vaccinated employees are legally allowed to work in care homes until 10 November, so planning the shortfall now, and starting recruitment early can help to ease the impact on the business. The sector was already struggling to fill an estimated 120,000 vacancies nationally before the latest changes and therefore well planned and effective recruitment strategies will be critically important.
Due to the widespread use of temporary and agency staff, many employers in the care sector are unsure of their retention rates. Keeping a closer eye on this can help to plan in advance when more support will be required and introducing employee engagement initiatives to improve retention rates can help considerably in situations like this.
Citation offers HR and employment advice to employers in the care sector. For more information, visit here.