Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

18.44 1 Feb 2021


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The Government will need to make a choice between "segregated workplaces" and compulsory COVID-19 vaccination, an employment lawyer has warned.

Richard Grogan says workplaces are going to have 'huge problems' if some employees refuse to get vaccinated.

As the vaccination programme ramps up over the coming months, employers will begin planning to allow more workers return to offices.

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However, many will likely find themselves in a situation where some workers - for religious or other personal reasons - will refuse to get a jab.

It has raised debates over whether vaccination should be mandatory, although health and Government officials have so far rejected that prospect.

Speaking on today's Hard Shoulder, Mr Grogan - of Richard Grogan and Associates - said there are legal provisions already in place that the Government could use.

'Segregated workplaces' on the cards if some staff refuse to get vaccine - lawyer

00:00:00 / 00:00:00

    

He explained: “This is covered by the Health Act 1947-2020… section 31 of that allows the Minister of Health to direct vaccination in this country. There’s a provision there they haven’t kicked in, and I think it’s one that’s going to have to be looked at very, very carefully.

“There’s going to be huge problems in workplaces if we have a situation where 85% get vaccinated and 15% don’t… you’re going to have segregation in the workplace.

"You’re going to have two lots of workers: one lot who are vaccinated, and another lot that aren’t vaccinated, and they’re going to have to be separated.

“We’re either going to accept that we’re going to have segregated workplaces, or we’re going to have to have compulsory vaccination."

Mr Grogan suggested segregated workplaces could see the likes of canteens and work areas separated, or else there could be a 'no jab, no job' policy where unvaccinated staff wouldn't be able to return to the office or workplace.

He said the pandemic is a national emergency, but noted there are going to be some people who'll have religious grounds for refusing a vaccine.

However, he said the Government will therefore need to clearly set out the rules and any exceptions to them.

He suggested there'll otherwise by a 'plethora' of cases before the Workplace Relations Commission if clear rules aren't set out.

HR perspective

Caroline McEnery, Managing Director The HR Suite, said she personally can't see mandatory COVID-19 vaccination becoming the law.

She said it's important that everyone's aware of other's rights under the Constitution.

She suggested that employers can't force anyone to get the vaccine, but they can 'encourage and inform'.

Ms McEnery said each workplace will have to do a risk assessment, and come up with measures to ensure a safe place of work even once widespread vaccination has happened.

Main image: File photo. Picture by: Isabel Infantes/EMPICS Entertainment

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