With a population of 1.3 billion, the vaccination drive in India is unarguably a logistical nightmare. To maximise the coverage, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) eased the vaccination process for the organized sector by allowing employers (both in private and government sector) to organise voluntary vaccination drives at workplace for their employees aged 18 years and above. The Government of India has also allowed for the benefits to be extended to eligible family members and the dependents of the employees. This is, unsurprisingly, increasing the accessibility multi-fold.
An employer having approximately 100 eligible and willing beneficiaries can organize voluntary workplace vaccination drives for its employees who (i) are eligible for vaccination as per the age criteria set by the Government of India, and (ii) are willing to get themselves vaccinated.
In India, several organisations appear to have sufficient infrastructure for vaccination related protocols and consequently, are setting up vaccination drives at their own workplace. These drives are being organised in collaboration with hospitals and health centres. Other organizations, in a move to ensure that their employees get dedicated resources for effective operationalisation, have partnered with vaccination centres, to inoculate their employees at such centres. In this article, we discuss the nuances which an employer must be aware of while organizing a vaccination drive at workplace.
Employer’s directive on vaccination – Can it be made obligatory for employees?
The MoHFW in its FAQs on COVID-19 vaccine has clearly stated that the vaccination for COVID-19 is voluntary. Consequently, it is difficult for employers to make vaccinations mandatory.
What are the options available to an employer if an employee refuses vaccination?
In a situation where there is hesitancy for vaccination, employers are exploring multiple innovative ways to incentivize their employees. They are coming in the form of additional leaves, on-campus drives that have stringent safety protocols and measures, extension of vaccination eligibility to family members and dependents, return to workplaces in a phased manner or even possibility of geographical mobility in the near future. It is relevant to remember that since vaccination is not compulsory under law, any adverse action for somebody refusing to take the vaccination may be quite difficult to justify in a court of law.
Privacy obligations in relation to Covid vaccine
An employer, subject to satisfaction of data protection laws at its end, is well within its rights to seek information relating to Covid vaccine. The information can include whether the employee has been vaccinated or not, the kind of vaccine that was administered or to even require the employee to submit his/her vaccination report as an evidence. This would ensure compliance by the employer in relation to the health and safety obligations at workplace. Moreover, the possibility of an employer’s customer(s) requiring information pertaining to the vaccination cannot also be ruled out. In cases where the vaccination data is shared with the employer’s customers, the employees must be informed of it.
Employer’s obligations vis-à-vis Covid vaccination
The employer, in general, must comply with the social distancing norms and preventive measures as prescribed by the Central and State Governments. Further, the employer must comply with the health and safety obligations during vaccination at workplace. The employer is required to comply with the guidelines issued by the MoHFW, which provides for the following:
- The workplace must have three demarcated rooms namely, waiting, vaccination and observation room
- Such rooms should preferably have two doors, one for entry and the other for exit
- Adequate physical distance of at least 2 gaz should be maintained between the chairs in the waiting and observation rooms
- There must be adequate facility for hand washing/ sanitization in the rooms
Additionally, an employer is required to disinfect the workplace where the vaccination drive is being held and provide for thermal screening at office entrances, and provide gloves, masks and other protective kit.
Employer’s liability in the event of medical complication suffered by the employee due to vaccination
An employer may be held responsible only in instances where the employer does not follow the protocol set out under the guidelines. Having said that, it is unlikely for an employer to be held responsible in circumstances where an employee has an adverse reaction to the Covid vaccine. It is of course recommended at all times that employers should have a written document with the health care provider to safeguard its interests and document appropriate bifurcation of duties.
Vaccination preference by employers
At the moment, there is nothing under the guidelines to impede an employer from manifesting its preference on the type of vaccination that it wants to make available to its employees.
Employer’s requirement to grant paid leave
While it not compulsory as yet, as per the Central guidelines, for employers to grant paid leave to its employees owing to vaccination, several organisations are however doing so. It is also worth mentioning that the Government of Uttar Pradesh had directed all government and private offices to give one-day leave to its employees for COVID-19 vaccination. However, it does not clarify whether such leave is in addition to the paid leave entitlement of an employee. A number of organisations, at their discretion, are even granting an extra day of paid leave to its employees to manage any post-vaccination symptoms.
Who covers the vaccine cost?
Although an employer is not obligated to cover the expense of Covid vaccine administered to its employees and their family members/ dependents, there is nothing under law to stop employers from doing so. As a matter of fact, most employers appear to be employing this method to increase the efficacy of its vaccination drives. A number of high-profile employers like State Bank of India, Uber, Infosys, Wipro, Flipkart, Zomato, Swiggy, Coca Cola and Bosch have already announced mass vaccination drives and the fact that they will cover the costs.