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To vaccinate or not? Navigating a divided workplace

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Blaire Palmer takes a stab at the hotly contested ‘no jab, no job’ debate and advises practitioners leading fractured offices.

28th Jun 2021
CEO That People Thing Ltd
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A question in Any Answers this month recently sparked a debate about the extent to which you can force employees to have the Covid vaccine and whether you would want to.

“A few of my clients are hoping for a full staff return to their workplaces in the coming weeks,” wrote AccountingWEB reader JW Grogan.

But some employees who at the time were not eligible for a jab have demanded to know if any returning colleagues have been vaccinated “in order to make an informed assessment of their own health and safety risk”. However, other members of staff have no intentions of getting vaccinated at all.

The AccountingWEB community was split on the topic; some argued the case for the employer having a responsibility to provide a safe working environment, while others countered with “medical freedom”.

The law on this is emerging and there is a debate about whether asking people to have the vaccine counts as reasonable management instruction and whether refusal could be enough to start disciplinary procedures against staff.

However, even if you were allowed to fire someone for refusing to have the jab, would you want to?

A divided world

We live at a time where many topics are considered too explosive to discuss at work. Research from the USA suggests that there is less ‘middle ground’ between people of different political persuasions than 30 years ago. Brexit is still a very divisive topic in the UK with many people feeling they can’t bring up the subject even amongst family members let alone at work.

And now Covid – the handling of the pandemic by governments, the rights and wrongs of lockdown restrictions, the true source of the virus and related conspiracy theories and, of course, whether the vaccine is safe or effective as a strategy to deal with the disease – presents more highly controversial topics. 

As partners, practice owners and practice managers are leaders in the profession, how do we create an environment where it is safe to express different opinions while also making it a safe place to work from a health perspective?

What is your leadership style?

The first question is not so much whether to enforce vaccination or not but HOW to decide what your approach to vaccinations is going to be.

And that comes down to your style of leadership and, by extension, the culture you’re trying to create.

In a dictatorial or directive culture such decisions are made at the top and then enforced. As a leader you decide on behalf of your people what’s best for them, what’s going to work for the business and how you want people to behave. If people don’t like it they don’t have to be there.

In a collaborative culture decisions are discussed and debated. In some such cultures decision making is about getting buy-in which can mean decisions are slow and bland. However collaborative cultures don’t have to mean decisions are made by committee. An individual usually has responsibility for making the final call and that individual might be the most senior person in the room but not necessarily. 

Some companies go even further culturally, creating an environment focused on outputs only. They are often very flat and self-managing. Individuals have roles with specific decision making responsibilities. They don’t need buy-in for decisions although they may seek input, opinions and expertise to understand the full picture and the implications of their decisions. In the end they decide and sit with the consequences.

So, when it comes to questions like “Should we insist our people are vaccinated?” it might help to think about what kind of culture you’re trying to create. Why would vaccination be an exception to that?

Learning to have a healthy fight

In the seminal HBR article “How to pick a good fight” authors Saj-nicole Joni and Damon Beyer explain how Lehman Brothers had become a culture where loyalty and harmony were prized, which is why staff were reluctant to speak up when they noticed the company was heading towards a crisis.

We’ve become very sensitive to conflict at work. In trying to create a great place to work and not offend people we often shy away from tough conversations. I’d go so far as to say we’ve lost the skill. As we enter a new era of work we may have to build our skill around having healthy debates otherwise there may come a point where it’s impossible to talk about anything openly for fear of causing uproar.

Seek first to understand

Most of the time we listen in order to persuade. But when we listen to understand we commit to seeing the other person’s point of view. We assume their position makes perfect sense to them just as ours makes perfect sense to us.

Most discussions at work are about opposing views – one person thinks A and the other person thinks B. To make it safe to discuss controversial topics we need to let go of the adversarial approach and instead adopt a curious one.

Wear different hats

We also tend to take a position and stick with it. This means the opinions in the room get a good airing, but what about other perspectives not represented by the people in the room?

Adopting different hats or presenting an argument that is not your own, just as in a debating competition, can make discussion less personal. If you are an advocate of vaccinations for all try arguing persuasively that we shouldn’t be vaccinated. If you can see a lot of flaws in an idea try seeing only the positives. If you tend to see things as a member of the senior team, try seeing them as if you were a new recruit straight from college.

I’m not going to tell you whether to insist your employees, visitors to your office or clients are vaccinated or not. This is actually more fundamental. It’s about the kind of firm you are and the kind of leader you want to become.

Replies (37)

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By Paul Crowley
29th Jun 2021 01:06

Risky topic
Cultural differences are such that even asking, let alone expecting a reply could lead to unfortunate accusations.

Good news though
Brexit is decided. It was 5 years ago. Odd as this little war took longer to get a result than the great war did

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Replying to Paul Crowley:
Maytuna
By DJKL
29th Jun 2021 14:32

Catch is it is not really decided, it merely pretends to be decided, we of course know we have left the EU and it is certainly likely we are not rejoining any time soon, but what has certainly not been decided is what type of entity the UK intends be re trade etc post Brexit.

The trouble is that even HMG currently does not appear to know its final direction of travel and there is no single underlying philosophy within its trade policy (what policy!!!!) , we know what the UK does not want to be, an EU member, we do not know what it wants to be, currently we appear to be acting like a person who has fallen overboard and is grabbing at whatever flotsam comes past.

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Replying to DJKL:
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By Rgab1947
30th Jun 2021 10:35

"merely pretends to be decided"

Agree. The EU still thinks we are part of the EU. One almost thinks the Brussel elite are taking ques from Belarus.

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Replying to Rgab1947:
Maytuna
By DJKL
30th Jun 2021 12:20

Not how I have been viewing the relationship, to me the UK does not read anything before signing it then gets upset when the other party implements the actual agreement rather than their imagined agreement.

If we want to be a third party country we get treated as one, it is really that simple.

It is why I cannot get to Sweden until after the end of August to sell my house there, EU citizens can transit into Sweden from tomorrow, all non EU are after 31st August and that is what we are.

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By Genio
29th Jun 2021 10:52

Absolutely not.

Its none of my (or anyone else's) business if my team are vaccinated or not... its their personal choice and I respect any decision they make .

Good luck to anyone that tries to enforce it.

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Replying to Genio:
Maytuna
By DJKL
29th Jun 2021 14:56

Well indirectly some of our tenants already are, when tradesmen are to be sent to their premises some of them have already asked for vaccination status of the party to be sent, supply , demand and market forces will eventually resolve any issues as by next year I suspect large numbers of business entities will not allow other individuals in without a double vaccination certificate.

(Whilst we are back at work in our office we now very rarely allow non staff inside, we have built a physical counter to prevent access, I suspect by later this year there will also be an administrative barrier)

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Replying to Genio:
Quack
By Constantly Confused
30th Jun 2021 08:03

There are a couple of people in my office who have said they won't be getting the vaccine. That just means I have an excuse not to take anything over to them, they'll get an email saying 'I've done you that letter, it's on reception'.

Luckily the people who I share a room with aren't idiots, so utilising the above plan I will never have to come into contact with the few who are.

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By bobsto12
29th Jun 2021 10:54

It's highly self indulgent, irrational and anti social to not get vaccinated but we live in a free society and covid isn't exactly bubonic plague.
The conspiracy and other rubbish otherwise intelligent people believe from watching youtube is staggering. We need to address the issue of whether freedom to spread factual lies is worth tolerating any more.

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Replying to bobsto12:
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By Paul Crowley
29th Jun 2021 11:22

Governments do it all the time

What exactly is a factual lie?

I read this as a comment that we should stop tolerating freedom

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Replying to Paul Crowley:
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By bobsto12
29th Jun 2021 13:49

A factual lie is a lie masquerading as a proven fact, the stock in trade of conspiracy theorists.
Democratic governments do not routinely lie to the electorate, that's just another myth spread by the internet. Do you not realise that lying in parliament is not tolerated and any minister that did so would face severe sanctions like Profumo did?

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Replying to bobsto12:
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By [email protected]
01st Jul 2021 08:55

bobsto12 wrote:

A factual lie is a lie masquerading as a proven fact, the stock in trade of conspiracy theorists.
Democratic governments do not routinely lie to the electorate, that's just another myth spread by the internet. Do you not realise that lying in parliament is not tolerated and any minister that did so would face severe sanctions like Profumo did?


Peter Stefanovic has a video detailing countless occasions when the PM has lied in the HoC, with no sanctions.
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Replying to Paul Crowley:
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By Rgab1947
30th Jun 2021 10:37

What you doubt Matt Hancock?

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By djn
29th Jun 2021 11:00

I cannot see any possible way that a firm would be able to insist on an employee being vaccinated.
I also think it would be crazy if staff would even consider not going to work if a member of staff was not vaccinated- surely this is not an issue?
If over 80% of the adult population are vaccinated then surely the risks are so small now that we almost don't need to worry about the non vaccinated.

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By Ammie
29th Jun 2021 11:02

Once this matter has cooled that possibility will fall by the by.

Certainly, there are circumstances when a job requires particular duty of care but they are relatively just a few cases.

What next, flu vaccine and all the boosters that will follow and then the vaccines for the inevitable viruses that will follow in years to come. Perhaps even a "sheep dip" at the workplace entrance and a full change into a nuclear like boiler suit, just to make sure.

There is exercising care and over stepping the mark. Each case needs to be considered on its own merits and an application of some common sense.

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By bendybod
29th Jun 2021 11:09

I am fortunate in that every one of my employees has been in the queue for vaccines as soon as they were eligible. I have not insisted that anyone share their vaccination status with me but they all have done so voluntarily by telling me that they were going for it. Had any decided not to take it or not to tell me, I equally would not have forced them to.
We have to live in a world where we assume that we can catch it from anyone and that anyone who has been vaccinated could be one of the unfortunate ones who did not gain immunity for whatever reason. So we all have to be responsible for our own actions and assume that any contact that we have with any other person could result in infection. Our own personal attitude to infection, within the current Government guidance, dictates whether we choose to wear a face covering even in situations where we are not obliged to, whether we limit the number of people that we interact with outside of work in order to minimise our potential impact on the risk of infection within the workplace, etc. As employers, we have to assume that everyone could be inadvertently coming in to the building infected and risk assess accordingly. I know for a fact that some people in our office do regular lateral flow tests and some don't. I am not going to insist that people do them anymore than I am going to insist upon vaccination. Would I ask a new recruit if they were vaccinated? I'm not sure at this stage.

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Replying to bendybod:
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By djn
29th Jun 2021 12:09

bendybod wrote:

I am fortunate in that every one of my employees has been in the queue for vaccines as soon as they were eligible. I have not insisted that anyone share their vaccination status with me but they all have done so voluntarily by telling me that they were going for it. Had any decided not to take it or not to tell me, I equally would not have forced them to.
We have to live in a world where we assume that we can catch it from anyone and that anyone who has been vaccinated could be one of the unfortunate ones who did not gain immunity for whatever reason. So we all have to be responsible for our own actions and assume that any contact that we have with any other person could result in infection. Our own personal attitude to infection, within the current Government guidance, dictates whether we choose to wear a face covering even in situations where we are not obliged to, whether we limit the number of people that we interact with outside of work in order to minimise our potential impact on the risk of infection within the workplace, etc. As employers, we have to assume that everyone could be inadvertently coming in to the building infected and risk assess accordingly. I know for a fact that some people in our office do regular lateral flow tests and some don't. I am not going to insist that people do them anymore than I am going to insist upon vaccination. Would I ask a new recruit if they were vaccinated? I'm not sure at this stage.


Based on your logic, we had better not ever ever ever come into contact with anyone else in our life. Just in case, they have covid. Then we had better not touch anything that anyone has ever touched just in case.

The risks after the vaccine are surely so small as to not even be an issue.

I think you are being a little over cautious to say the least.

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By Ian McTernan CTA
29th Jun 2021 13:00

Certain jobs should have it as an absolute minimum to continue in their jobs, and that is those in the care industry. I fully expect insurance companies to insist on this in future or deny cover- as there is a clear case for lawyers to persue should a resident become infected and staff have refused to be vaccinated.

As for the general population, it's not YOU that you get the vaccine for, it's your fellow humans. If you don't give a ^&%& about others and only think of yourself, then you won't get it. If you consider it part of your duty to others, then you will have had it (medical exemptions excepted).

Those saying it's none of their business if their staff have been vaccinated or not are burying their heads in the sand: you are leaving yourself open to a pretty huge claim not covered by your insurance if one of your staff gets infected by another or one of your staff spreads covid during their work hours.

Of course the woke amongst us will say it's all about personal choice and ignore the fact that it's a spreadable disease that affects others and defend that person's right to infect and kill others as long as they can only consider themselves and be utterly selfish.

I suspect opinions on this may also be coloured by how many people you know have died from it and how they caught it...

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Replying to Ian McTernan CTA:
SMH
By ShakingMyHead
29th Jun 2021 13:20

How the hell do you proove where on earth you picked up the virus from?? By that logic... the amount of people who go into hospital and contract new strains of god knows what - the NHS would've been sued out of existence. You could've picked it up from the supermarket, the bus, the library... should they all insist users get jabbed 'just in case' a customer sues them for picking it up there and 'not making the place safe'?? Madness.

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Replying to ShakingMyHead:
Maytuna
By DJKL
29th Jun 2021 14:45

You will likely not need to prove, you merely need to demonstrate the employer did not take reasonable steps and on the balance of probability etc - remember in civil cases the burden of causality can often be much weaker and that the employer owes a legal duty of care to his /her/its employees and requires to act in a reasonable manner.

Accordingly an employer ought to read appropriate professional guidance that has standing and follow it or risk being sued when something goes wrong, your culpability will be judged by what you did or did not do to protect your staff.

On my recent insurance renewal re our property portfolio it has the following general wording,

"The Insured shall take all reasonable precautions to prevent or diminish loss, destruction, damage or injury....."

So, what is reasonable, your gut feel or the published guidance of say a professional body within the field of HR?

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Replying to DJKL:
SMH
By ShakingMyHead
29th Jun 2021 17:15

If you want to talk about "published guidance" of say.. the government... have a read of this... on the HMRC site... page 10 paragraph 32... they state that they expect a 3rd wave of infections in August, and they expect 60-70% of the expected hospital admissions and DEATHS to come from those who have had both vaccinations.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/spi-m-o-summary-of-further-mo...

This is my opinion >> IF people wish to participate in the government-pharma experiment ... that's up to them. But there is no place for the government or 'employers' to be MANDATING this. This is not a communist state (last time I checked). If you want to have your 2 jabs - go ahead. You've got nothing to worry about about. You're protected, aren't you? Have faith in the government. They always get it right don't they?

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Replying to ShakingMyHead:
Maytuna
By DJKL
29th Jun 2021 23:44

I would suggest following something like the undernoted might be a more reliable indicator of being a reasonable employer if push comes to shove.

I would read, document, follow, document you have followed, doing this will likely protect from most ambulance chasers as there is a clear audit trail of what you have done (In the same way we document machinery safety checks, checking being important for actual safety documenting the checks being important to protect us from litigation by showing what we have done).

https://www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/fundamentals/emp-law/health-safety/prep...

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Replying to ShakingMyHead:
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By bobsto12
30th Jun 2021 05:19

It says the vaccines reduce the risk of death by 90%. As for your insinuation that the vaccines are a pharma experiment do you really suppose the scientists advising the government are idiots? Covid has to be brought under control its wrecking our economy and taking a tiny risk on the vaccine is part of being a good citizen.

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Replying to bobsto12:
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By KH
01st Jul 2021 15:50

I hate to say it, but the government is made up of a load of excellent liars ... ... and what is really worrying is the unbelievable difficulty in finding any accurate info on the so-called vaccines (apparently the definition of vaccine had to be changed to accommodate the covid jabs) ... Any health professional or scientist who dares question the reliability of these new jabs puts his job on the line, gets death threats, and is treated as a person of zero integrity and intelligence ... yet these vaccines haven't passed the proper assessment criteria for safety since they were authorised under "emergency" rules, with the makers being fully indemnified against any comeback.

If you wish to spend an hour being totally freaked out, then I suggest you try the following website:

https://ugetube.com/watch/ask-the-experts-2-bbc-panorama-response-2021-0...

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Replying to ShakingMyHead:
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By donquixote34
01st Jul 2021 17:32

If people with co-morbidities such as diabetes wish to protect themselves with experimental soup then that alone should cut the death rate down from the already minuscule and exaggerated levels. IF they are then so protected, they have little to worry about except side-effects from the gene therapy.

I personally object to human material being used in the manufacture of these or any other medicines, so cannot in all conscience, accept the jab.

I am though, more than willing to take a traditional prophylactic medicine or cure.

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Replying to Ian McTernan CTA:
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By djn
29th Jun 2021 13:26

Ian McTernan CTA wrote:

Certain jobs should have it as an absolute minimum to continue in their jobs, and that is those in the care industry. I fully expect insurance companies to insist on this in future or deny cover- as there is a clear case for lawyers to persue should a resident become infected and staff have refused to be vaccinated.

As for the general population, it's not YOU that you get the vaccine for, it's your fellow humans. If you don't give a ^&%& about others and only think of yourself, then you won't get it. If you consider it part of your duty to others, then you will have had it (medical exemptions excepted).

Those saying it's none of their business if their staff have been vaccinated or not are burying their heads in the sand: you are leaving yourself open to a pretty huge claim not covered by your insurance if one of your staff gets infected by another or one of your staff spreads covid during their work hours.

Of course the woke amongst us will say it's all about personal choice and ignore the fact that it's a spreadable disease that affects others and defend that person's right to infect and kill others as long as they can only consider themselves and be utterly selfish.

I suspect opinions on this may also be coloured by how many people you know have died from it and how they caught it...


IMO this is scaremongering. You cannot force office staff to have a vaccine. You cannot get sued for not making someone have a vaccine that you cannot legally enforce.
I agree with the workers in the NHS having it for example but an office?? Really?
I respect your view but totally disagree with your logic.
Covid is serious no doubt to a very small % of people and any deaths are tragic......but it is not like it is ebola. My wife is a nurse and so I'm not blinkered to the cold harsh reality of this as she worked in ITU at the heights of all this.
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By JamesDS
29th Jun 2021 13:00

I think that at least part of this question is about liability.

Given that we are under a duty of care to provide a safe workplace, and that duty is enforced by H&S legislation, could it be argued that a failure to adequately risk-assess and mitigate the obvious dangers left us, as employers, liable?

What exactly are the mitigations? One of my clients currently has a 6,000 seat building that currently has more cleaners onsite than desk-based staff. If you visit the site and go to the kitchen to make tea, a cleaner follows you about and wipes everything you touch!

There is a "mortality-risk cut-off" here. I don't what that is, but flu is probably a good example as there are lots of stats. We don't insist on flu vaccines each year, so perhaps the cut-off is the point at which covid has a comparable mortality to flu.

Useful information on this here: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarri...

Years ago one of my clients reported that when an IT person came in to work with a STREP B infection, the employer immediately sent home the IT person and every expectant mother in the place.

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By KH
29th Jun 2021 13:21

According to the BBC news website today, wearing a proper mask is sufficient to cut down covid transmission rates to zero, according to Cambridge hospital that ignored government advice and implemented a proper mask-wearing policy ... see https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-57636360

So there's the way forward for offices with mixed jabbed/non-jabbed staff ... and it's very worrying to think that the government's advice that masks were virtually useless could have been the cause of countless deaths amongst medics, let alone the general population.

My wife did a simple test ... she went outside on a cold morning and coughed, and watched the breath spread out over about 10 feet in the cold air. She then did the same, but wearing the simplest of masks, and her breath didn't travel anywhere. And since the government did at one stage say that wearing a mask might protect others from catching covid from you, why didn't they expand the argument to say that if everybody wore masks, nobody would catch it. HELP!

The other issue is, the vaccinations are all in their 3-year trial phase ... so if somebody doesn't want to be a guinea pig for a government that swears blind about all sorts of fallacies (nearly spelt that appropriately for this government with a "ph" at the beginning!), you really can't blame them.

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Replying to KH:
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By bobsto12
30th Jun 2021 05:30

The vaccines are in the normal 3 year post approval safety monitoring phase like every other vaccine is subject to. This is not a trial period that normally takes place before approval despite what the Internet "experts" claim.

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By Mr J Andrews
29th Jun 2021 13:54

I was 50:50 before reading this article. But now I'm sitting on the fence.

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Replying to Mr J Andrews:
Quack
By Constantly Confused
30th Jun 2021 08:00

Mr J Andrews wrote:

I was 50:50 before reading this article. But now I'm sitting on the fence.

I used to be indecisive, but now I'm not so sure...

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Quack
By Constantly Confused
30th Jun 2021 07:59

People who refuse to get vaccinated are the same people who leave their trolleys in the middle of the car park at the supermarket.

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Replying to Constantly Confused:
Maytuna
By DJKL
30th Jun 2021 12:25

They also cycle three abreast, light bonfires as soon as you put the laundry out and have children that ought not to be allowed in restaurants or on planes.

( stereotyping is so much fun)

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Keep Calm, I'm and Accountant!
By i-accounts
30th Jun 2021 13:24

I still very much feel that the vaccine has not been robustly tested and on that basis nothing would persuade me to have it at this stage. I am quite shocked at some of the views from those who are pro vaccine towards those who are not convinced it is the holy grail especially having seen first hand some shocking adverse reactions to it. As for employers potentially insiting that their staff get vaccinated? I think that will be as successful as insiting that their employees don't attend large social events or go to the pub to avoid the risk lol

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Replying to i-accounts:
Maytuna
By DJKL
30th Jun 2021 15:22

I believe adverse reactions are pretty infrequent, headaches, couple of days off colour being common yes, but few have worse reactions- this compares pretty well to those who actually contract covid, I have a fair few of my family who have had it (luckily , in some ways, mainly the younger ones), I have one family member slowly climbing out of Long Covid (my daughter in law) and I have a friend who has lost his brother who was only late 40s.

However that totally misses the point, any employer who addressees safe working as a supporter of vaccines or anti vaccines is a total idiot, the key is to act as a reasonable employer would act to ensure you do not leave yourself open to litigation, accountants as part of their job evaluate risk, personal beliefs ought not enter into that decision making as if they do the party leaves themselves wide open to liability.

I do not think employers will insist, I think the invisible hand of the market will insist, markets will likely curtail the freedoms of those who will not get vaccinated and have no "exemption", fairness etc will not enter into the equation, by next year I strongly suspect a large number of employers will need to bring in vaccination policies to keep their customers happy.

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By KH
01st Jul 2021 15:53

I am by no means an anti-vaxxer, but I am worried about the fairly obvious flaws in all the arguments being put out by the government in its push to get us all vaccinated. You might want to watch the following:

https://ugetube.com/watch/ask-the-experts-2-bbc-panorama-response-2021-0...

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By ImNotSureBut
01st Jul 2021 15:58

I've done a few stints volunteering in hospitals over the Covid period, including on a Covid ward. I've also done vaccination shifts.

We have had zero serious adverse reactions reported over all my vaccination shifts; a lot of the people I saw in the hospital died.

Easy equation in my opinion.

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By GiantOwlet
05th Aug 2021 07:23

Interesting stuff to read. Keep it up. https://www.publixoasis.us/

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