Employers are facing a dilemma: should they only employ staff who are vaccinated?

On the one hand, business would be keeping their workforce and customers safer, on the other hand, they could be accused of discrimination.

Some companies have already said they are only hiring people who have had the jab - such as national plumbing chain Pimlico.

Indeed, the justice secretary Robert Buckland said although it would be “discriminatory” to force someone to have a coronavirus vaccine in order to keep their job, it would also "depend very much on the terms of employment and the particular contract".

In East Anglia businesses are divided, with those in social care saying they have already brought in a policy of no jab, no job.

Daya Thayan, chief executive of Kingsley Healthcare which has care homes across Norfolk and Suffolk said: “Our new group policy is that all new staff will be asked to take the vaccine unless they have a medical condition preventing it.

“Seven per cent of our staff still have not had the vaccine. We are listening to their concerns and providing reassurance and advice through our home and operations managers and our private GP service which is offering support to all staff.

“It is important to protect yourself and others; studies have shown there to be no concerns of any significance surrounding the vaccine.”

Eastern Daily Press: Daya Thayan, the CEO of Kingsley Healthcare, has called for more support from the government as the group announce eight residents at two Norfolk care homes have died from coronavirus. Picture: Kingsley HealthcareDaya Thayan, the CEO of Kingsley Healthcare, has called for more support from the government as the group announce eight residents at two Norfolk care homes have died from coronavirus. Picture: Kingsley Healthcare (Image: Shaheen Jahir)

Mr Thayan said he could see no issues with hiring only individuals who had had the vaccine or were prepared to have it.

This was echoed by a spokesman for Barchester Healthcare, who similarly has sites across Norfolk, who said: “Our long-term ambition is that all patient and resident-facing staff will have the vaccine , and we have very recently communicated to our teams that one option under consideration is that staff who refuse the vaccine on non-medical grounds will, by reason of their own decision, make themselves unavailable for work.

"This is part of an ongoing dialogue we are having, we are constantly reviewing this as more information is available, and are very aware of concerns around possible discrimination which is in no way our intention.

This feeling was also reflected by the public when asked by this newspaper. A poll suggested that overwhelmingly people thought employers should only hire staff who had had the vaccine.

52pc of voters said no jab, no job policies should be brought in once the vaccine was available to all, and a further 15pc added that it should be mandatory in health and social care settings.

However a third of people said that, irrespective of their profession, people should not be forced to have the vaccine.

At Aviva, which employs around 4,000 people out of temporarily closed offices in Norwich's Surrey Street, they have no plans to bring in such a policy.

A spokesman said: “Our focus continues to be on the safety and wellbeing of our people, customers and communities.

Eastern Daily Press: Aviva logo. Norwich Union. Marble Hall. Surrey House, Surrey Street, Norwich.; PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY.Aviva logo. Norwich Union. Marble Hall. Surrey House, Surrey Street, Norwich.; PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY. (Image: © ARCHANT NORFOLK 2010)

"In line with government advice most of our colleagues are working remotely at the moment. Our offices remain open, and Covid secure, for the very small number of critical workers who are not able to work from home.

"Aviva currently has no intention to ask employees or applicants to have a Covid-19 vaccine as a prerequisite for job applications.”

Likewise Norfolk-based service provider Norse said it employs no such scheme and did not plan to: "We would, however, actively encourage all of our staff to take up the opportunity of a vaccine when offered, in order to protect themselves, their families and the communities we serve.

"We believe that our staff and the people we would want to employ in the future, are more likely to take their own positive approach towards being vaccinated, where possible and appropriate.

"And, as a supportive employer, we are already planning to ensure that when staff do receive their vaccination appointments, they are freely able to attend.”

Is it legal to only employ people who have had the vaccine?

Law firm Birketts' senior associate in the employment team, Sam Greenhalgh, said the problem comes down to justification, with health and social care businesses having more reason to have these policies than other businesses.

Mr Greenhalgh said: "Notwithstanding any justification argument that an employer may have, employers should be careful that such a requirement is not unlawfully discriminatory. Such a requirement could have an indirect effect on individuals that have a protected characteristic.

"Furthermore, the principle of vaccination may go against some individuals’ religion or philosophical belief. The so called “Anti-Vaxers” may have a protected philosophical belief. This will be highly dependent on the individual circumstances, but it is theoretically possible."

He said companies should seek legal advice and have a "good argument" if they began looking into such contracts.

He added that it would be preferable for companies to hire recruits who had had the vaccine instead of dismissing current staff for not having it: "The employer may have to take steps to dismiss the employee for most likely for ‘some other substantial reason’ and will have to demonstrate that their reason for dismissal (the employee’s refusal to have the vaccine) is a legitimate reason and reasonable in all of the circumstances.

"This could be very difficult to prove and employers are urged to take advice before embarking on such a process. Before going down the dismissal route, employers should exhaust all possible alternatives such as a change to their role or particular circumstances."

How can businesses communicate the need for a vaccine to staff without it becoming a legal battle?

A spokeswoman for HR specialists MAD-HR said: "By organisations focusing on understanding the objections from individual staff in regard to having the vaccine, and focusing on education as to the perceived benefits, organisations will be seen as treating staff as individuals rather than a number or a whole.

"Such an approach will make staff feel more valued. The message could also be seen as a positive in that care homes want to reduce the risk to all current staff and therefore a strategy of only recruiting staff who have been vaccinated could be seen as trying to limit the risk and therefore caring for the existing staff.

"Assuming that the vaccine is as effective as we are led to believe, the benefits for the employer will be a reduced absence and a safer healthier working environment."