By Lisa McNeill

ALMOST 2.5 million people in Scotland have now received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccination and more than 325,000 have had the second, bringing a sense of relief and optimism to many.

After months of separation from loved ones residing in care homes, indoor visiting has now resumed with two designated visitors per resident permitted twice a week, albeit – understandably – under strict health and safety conditions.

More than half – of care home residents in Scotland have received their second dose of the vaccination, but what does this mean for care home providers when it comes to staff vaccinations?

The Scottish Government has not made the Covid-19 vaccine mandatory, therefore an employer cannot force an employee to get a Covid-19 vaccine. However, this has started to raise questions within the social care sector given the vulnerability of the residents employees are caring for.

Up until now, the UK Government's position has also been that it will not require anyone to have the vaccine. However, we're now seeing Westminster toy with the idea of making it compulsory for all care home workers in England to do so – a controversial move which would create a raft of legal challenges.

Frontline health and social care workers were among the first groups to be offered the vaccination in Scotland, however there has not been a 100 per cent uptake for various reasons.

Although we know that the vaccine reduces the transmission of the coronavirus, employers should be very wary about putting pressure on staff to get vaccinated and making it a condition of employment. Risks include infringement of human rights, discrimination (religion and belief, disability, pregnancy) and data protection.

Individual risk is a key factor to the safety of others, particularly for the most vulnerable groups. Health and safety risk assessments of the workplace need to be reviewed and should include consideration of the vaccine programme and whether previously adequate control measures need to be strengthened due to the greater transmissibility of new strains. Employers may wish to consider individual risk assessments for employees who choose not to be vaccinated.

At Addleshaw Goddard, we are advising clients in the social care sector who want to provide the safest environment for employees and residents but cannot make a Covid-19 vaccination a mandatory condition of employment.

We are advising clients to ensure that there is an appropriate information and consultation process in place with staff and to have a vaccination policy in place which encourages the uptake of the vaccination, advises on the government's position and the health benefits, as well as the potential human rights and discrimination concerns. Employers should listen to concerns if employees refuse to take the vaccine as there are, of course, genuine personal and health-related reasons to refuse the vaccine.

Having passed the one-year anniversary of the country going into its first lockdown, we have a greater understanding of the virus. Social care providers are responsible for the care of their residents and employees, and will have to manage their next steps very carefully to ensure they minimise the risk of breaching their legal obligations.

Lisa McNeill is a dispute resolution associate at Addleshaw Goddard