Like U2, Covid-19 remains A Thing, as much as we would like to pretend it has gone away for good. With offices probably fuller this week than at any point over the past 18 months, the virus looms less large than it did, but you only have to look at the numbers to know it is still a big problem. Anecdotally, the numbers of friends getting a positive test feels higher than ever right now.
All of which makes it entirely understandable why firms might take extra precautions around the return to the office – and in particular placing a requirement on those coming back to have both Covid vaccinations. Last week, the US-headquartered Morrison Foerster said only those who were double-jabbed could enter its London office, echoing the policy of many American firms.
This is not just a US thing though. I have been told of one mid-sized England and Wales firm whose board voted last week to adopt the same approach, after an outbreak which started in the office in August. Crucially for the employment lawyers circling, the option of working from home will remain in place and there will be no requirement to actually prove that someone has been vaccinated, relying instead on trust and goodwill.
The Covid passport debate has been done to death, if you’ll excuse the pun. Personally, I’m happy to show my vaccine status (double-jabbed, didn’t get a sticker mind you) in order to enter a festival, football ground or nightclub (the last one possibly moot for me). If the anti-vacc movement sees passports as them being forced to have the jab, they’re right – that’s exactly what’s happening – and thank goodness for that.
But the issue with insisting on vaccines to come into the office is about practicality. I am told by someone trying to implement the policy that support staff are more likely to have refused the jab than fee earners. Those same support staff – receptionists, security, catering – are the ones whose presence in the office is most required. It is all very well offering people the chance to work from home, but if they can’t do their job from home, you’re in a quandary.
There is also the possibility that you alienate those who have been vaccinated and are seeing (or rather, not seeing) colleagues working from home. It is difficult to insist on a hybrid working system, with mandatory attendance in the office on certain days, when some staff members are able to effectively opt out. At the most extreme, you could even discourage some people from taking the jab if they think it will prevent them working from home.
It’s a tough balancing act. You obviously want to keep people safe and avoid work-related outbreaks. Banning the unvaccinated might seem the best option, but it’s not without its own dangers.