Implementing a ‘no jab, no job’ vaccine employment policy is possible in law, but travel firms must have proper justification for bringing in such a rule.

Speaking this week during Travel Weekly’s Future of Travel Spring Forum, Ami Naru, Travlaw’s head of employment, said firms insisting on vaccines risk breaching employees’ human rights.

She said companies must look at the specific situation, with agents on the high street who come into contact with the general public a very different scenario than someone selling holidays from home.

Naru said staff may raise concerns if colleagues have not been vaccinated, but there could be discrimination issues related to people who aren’t vaccinated for medical or belief reasons.

Comment: ‘No jab, no job?’ 

“The government can’t insist everyone takes a vaccine so nor can an employer,” Naru said. “Insisting that someone has a vaccine will be most likely against their human rights.

“You have to ask what is it you are trying to achieve and why do you need this policy in place? Is it to protect other members of staff, or the public, or to protect that member of staff?”

Naru predicted travel firms will have to deal with more requests for flexible working as companies start bringing staff back into the workplace when furlough winds down later this year.

She said under current laws any employee with 26 weeks of continuous employment can make a request once every 12 months which must be properly dealt with by the employer.

Firms have three options: deny the request; agree a trial period, although it will be argued that this is unnecessary if people have been working from home during the pandemic; or grant the request.

Acceptable reasons for rejecting flexible working include that it will have a detrimental impact on performance or on the ability to organise other work and staff, and additional costs.

“Just because someone’s got the right to request does not mean they have the right to work,” said Naru. “Go through the thought process, enter into dialogue and understand the real reasons.

“There may be indirect discrimination issues arising if those requests are granted or not. Take advice, if in doubt, at the time.”

Naru advised firms to prepare for the ending of furlough this autumn by upskilling and retraining employees before they return to work.

In July, employers will have to contribute 10% to furlough payments and in August and September 20% before the job retention scheme ends.

Furloughed staff can undertake training but can do no work that generates revenue. “It’s about rehabilitating them and getting them back into the workplace,” Naru said.

She added that firms are likely to face a hybrid future where some staff are in the office, some work from home and others split their time between both.

And employers have a legal obligation under health and safety and duty of care regulations to look after those staff working from home.

This does not mean visiting every home office to carry out a risk assessment, but they will have to make sure the right equipment is available and resources available to support staff wellbeing.

“Every employer must take reasonable steps to ensure the health and safety of their staff and conduct risk assessment,” said Naru.

“Employers have to adapt to the way they consider their obligations. They have to show they have given it consideration.

“I believe we’re not going to go back to the situation pre-Covid where people would work 100% of their time from the office.

“Nor do I believe the move is going to go completely the other way where people are working 100% of the time from home.

“There’s going to be a hybrid model of some working from home, some working from the office and some people who float between the two.

“Employers need to think about how they implement that and get a policy in place because it’s not just about homeworking it’s about all the other things that have a direct and consequential impact.

“Is there enough technology and equipment? Does it have a knock-on effect when you are renegotiating leases. Are their wider business impacts?”