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Managing Workplace Conflicts Following Vaccinations

Reasons to choose Wilson Browne

Asking an employee about their vaccination status sets in motion a number of data protection obligations but that isn’t the only thing to consider.

In this article, we explore the unexpected side effect that vaccinations are having on professional relationships in the workplace.

With regard to data protection, if you intend to ask employees if they have been vaccinated against coronavirus, you must ensure that you have a legal basis for doing so. Further, as the information relates to the employee’s health, you are required to comply with the conditions for processing this special category of data under the UK GDPR.

But aside from these obligations, employers are now faced with the challenge of managing workplace conflicts which arise from differing views about the vaccination itself and pandemic ideologies.

What should you have in place to minimise these conflicts?

First and foremost, your equal opportunities policy will help to reinforce the importance of being respectful to everyone in the workplace, irrespective of differences. It allows you to emphasise the non-negotiable requirement for integration and cohesiveness amongst your diverse workforce.

You may have heard about an increase in employment tribunal cases whereby employees are asserting that their decision to be vaccinated (or not!) is due to the philosophical (or other) beliefs that they hold.

Generally speaking, philosophical beliefs are classed as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 – this means that employees should not be subjected to discrimination on account of the beliefs they have. There has been an undoubtable increase in employees asserting that, for example, the introduction of mandatory vaccinations encroaches on the aforementioned beliefs. For now, this remains a grey area in the law and each case will turn on its own facts – it is however worth mentioning that the recent legislation pertaining to mandatory vaccinations in the care sector makes it clear that an inability to be vaccinated for clinical reasons does not extend to religious or philosophical beliefs. It remains to be seen as to whether the same will apply to other industries.

What else can you consider?

Your second point of reference will be your anti-bullying and harassment policy which 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 the commencement of a disciplinary process.

It is also a good time to ensure that your social media policy is robust so that employees know what is expected of them even 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:

  1. Clearly set out the expectations and workplace guidelines on covid safety measures while emphasising that they must all be respectful of personal choice;
  2. Be able to recognise signs of a conflict arising before it escalates;
  3. Take all concerns on board and identify if/when the formal grievance procedure should be invoked;
  4. Undertake fair, thorough and impartial investigations when issues are brought to light;
  5. 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!

Jennie Jahina


Jennie Jahina


Jennie is a Partner and Head of the Employment team.  A member of the Employment Lawyers Association, Jennie has 21 years’ experience and is an accredited CEDR Mediator. She acts for private sector organisations ranging from SMEs to multi-national companies and public sector organisations.