Employers are now faced with the challenge of managing workplace conflicts which arise from differing views about the vaccination itself and pandemic ideologies. So, what should you have in place to minimise these conflicts?
Your equal opportunities policy will reinforce the importance of being respectful to everyone in the workplace, irrespective of differences. It emphasises the non-negotiable requirement for integration and cohesiveness amongst your diverse workforce.
There has been an increase in tribunal claims where employees are asserting that their decision to be vaccinated (or not!) is due to the philosophical beliefs that they hold.
Philosophical beliefs are a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 which means that employees should not be subjected to discrimination on account of their beliefs. There has been an undoubtable increase in employees asserting that, for example, the introduction of mandatory vaccinations encroaches on their beliefs. For now, this remains a grey area in the law and each case will turn on its own facts – however, the recent legislation on mandatory vaccinations in the care sector clarifies that an acceptable reason not to be vaccinated does not include religious or philosophical beliefs – it must be a clinical reason.
What else can you consider?
Your anti-bullying and harassment policy. This serves as a reminder that such behaviour (irrespective of its reasons) will not be tolerated in any circumstance. Employees should be forewarned that any breach of these policies will be treated with utmost seriousness and could lead to disciplinary action.
It is also a good time to ensure that your social media policy is robust so that employees know what is expected of them when they are exercising their online presence. While they cannot be stopped from reacting to the influx of COVID related news, any such opinions should not be directed at any individual(s) who merely have an opposing view.
From a practical perspective, you should:
- Clearly set out the expectations and workplace guidelines on COVID safety measures while emphasising that they must all be respectful of personal choice
- Be able to recognise signs of a conflict arising before it escalates
- Take all concerns on board and identify if/when the formal grievance procedure should be invoked
- Undertake fair, thorough and impartial investigations when issues are brought to light
- Take appropriate action where employee conduct falls below the expected standard, ensuring that a consistent approach is taken with all
We have all been at the behest of a fragmented year and now more than ever, team integration is key to rebuilding relationships – even if it is socially distanced!
For advice on this and other employment law issues, contact Wilson Browne Solicitors on 0800 088 6004 or visit www.wilsonbrowne.co.uk