Partner An unnamed firm
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Navigating vaccinations and pinging post-Covid

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The pinging issue is problematic and soon we will need to worry about colleagues (and clients) who are unwilling or unable to get jabs.

2nd Aug 2021
Partner An unnamed firm
Columnist
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It is hard to pick up (okay, view online) a paper or catch up with any kind of media outlet without facing a barrage of outrage from those who believe that the government’s policy on people who have had double vaccinations is wrong. Even government ministers seem to be on the rampage.

I have a nasty feeling that all of this will end in tears if we allow visitors from the United States easy access.

Coronavirus is raging there and those who claim to be double vaccinated can’t prove it, since their systems provide nothing more than an easily forgeable bit of card, which will only be checked by airline staff.

My impression is that the use of this week’s buzz term “pinging” is also becoming highly politicised.

If the rather less kitschy phrase of “protecting the community from those who are at high risk of having coronavirus” was used instead, reactions might be very different.

If the government really is intent on reducing the number of people self-isolating unnecessarily, then it should adjust the sensitivity of the app, in doing so admitting that the app is fatally flawed. Ministers might also consider providing properly grounded scientific evidence demonstrating that there is no significant risk in situations where people crowd together without masks.

I am no scientist but remain to be convinced and would have thought that some kind of halfway house where people isolate for a few days while taking regular tests could be a reasonable middle-of-the-road solution.

I realise that we have reached the terminus, achieved freedom and can now do whatever we like. The virus has inconsiderately failed to listen to the pontifications of the Prime Minister or any of his colleagues who seem to spend their whole lives being interviewed and increasing global warming with all of their hot air.

However, hospitalisations and deaths are both climbing worryingly and, while after a brief dip, case numbers may also be on the rise. This is only likely to get worse over the next few weeks.

Cautious accountants

The impression I have is that accountants are still generally being cautious, opening up offices in a very limited way, if at all, and continuing with social distancing and other allied measures.

Soon, we will be faced with some challenging ethical decisions regarding our staff and vaccinations.

The first one could be information gathering. We have all learned over the years that one cannot ask questions that seem entirely pertinent to our practices such as “have you got any plans to start a family?”, “how old are you?” or “are you disabled?”.

In a similar vein, I have been wondering whether there might be any legal or other kind of restrictions on asking what will surely become the most fashionable question of 2021/22: “Have you had the coronavirus vaccine?”

This might well be some kind of infringement of liberties or a breach of human rights or even equal opportunities legislation. We need to know.

Assuming that we are allowed to get the answer to this vital question, that could then pose significant problems.

If every member of staff answers in the affirmative, we will be happy until it comes round to booster time, which might be about the time that many of us think about reopening in earnest.

The likelihood is that the majority of our workforce will not be entitled to get a booster jab for another six to nine months and therefore might unwillingly be creating additional risk.

That could then put them in the same boat as those who have not been vaccinated in the first place.

In recent years, it has become increasingly clear that recruiting high quality members of staff is difficult, if not impossible. Therefore, while it might initially be tempting to turn down potential recruits who have refused vaccinations or release current staff members with the same outlook, that could backfire badly.

Constructive dismissal risks

If you push too hard, there is also the chance that an employee may leave and make a damages claim for constructive dismissal. That is bad enough, but if they happen to be a) pregnant, b) BAME or c) both, then it could get expensive, especially if a pattern can be detected.

Persuasion and gentle coercion should be the way forward but, in reality, I fear we may be forced to accept that our offices will contain a majority of partners and staff who have vaccinations, even if they are not up-to-date, and a smaller number who do not.

Just to add fuel to the fire, I wonder how many partners would be willing to sack valuable clients on the basis that they wish to visit our offices from time to time and are not double vaccinated?

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