Covid-19 Vaccine: Mandatory or Optional For Employees?

It is no longer news that about five pharmaceutical companies worldwide have rolled out vaccines for the prevention and treatment of the Covid-19 virus.

These vaccines are already being administered in single and double doses in Europe, America, United Kingdom, etc., and the first batch has been received in Nigeria. Some employers are of the opinion that remote working is the new normal; others believe that it is an anomaly and only a return to office will bring back normalcy to most businesses. The question is, can employers mandate their employees to take Covid-19 vaccines not only as part of their obligations to provide a safe working environment but also to protect the employees as they travel to and from the office to their respective homes daily?

Generally, employers are obligated to provide a safe working environment. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, this would typically include providing personal protection equipment, education, and training on workplace safety, prevention or management of occupational hazards, and cultivating a general culture of safety. On the other hand, the employees have an obligation to co-operate with the employers to fulfill their obligations regarding workplace safety. The employees’ obligations include taking reasonable care of their health and having due consideration for the protection of others that may be affected by their acts or omissions, complying with lawful/reasonable safety instructions, and using health, safety, and other protective equipment/devices properly.

The peculiarity of the Covid-19 virus has, however, altered the pre-existing safety measures. In addition to the safety measures identified above, employers now have an obligation to take preventive measures in the spread of the virus, most of which are supported by law. These include ensuring that employees wear a face mask, providing and ensuring the use of hand sanitizers and washing facilities, ensuring social distancing, and checking body temperature. The latest development in the prevention and cure of the virus is vaccination. This would require injecting the Covid-19 vaccine into the human tissue, which is eventually processed and delivered to the immune organs.

As of the date of this publication, there is no law that mandates a citizen of Nigeria to take the vaccine. This is more so due to the other preventive measures that can be adopted to reduce the spread of the virus and the recovery rate of those infected. Thus, whether an employer could mandate its employees to take the Covid-19 vaccine as part of its obligations to provide a safe working environment would depend on the facts of each case, including the nature of the employment and the rate at which the employees interact with members of the public.

What Options Are Available to Employers?

 Employers may educate the employees on the many benefits of taking the vaccine and advise that it is the optimal option for ensuring a safe working environment for all employees. It may also, without discrimination, provide certain incentives for employees who have taken the vaccine. These incentives should be connected to workplace safety, such as redeployment or change in job roles. Employers must avoid discrimination based on vaccination, as vaccination is only one of the options in the treatment and prevention of the spread of the virus. Employers should also ensure strict compliance with the other lawfully recognized means for preventing the virus, such as face masks and hand sanitizers, maintaining social distance at the workplace, and checking body temperature.

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