Persuading employees to take the vaccine plunge
The last thing that we need is a coronavirus outbreak in the office. Therefore, the Imprudent Accountant has finally listen to the wisdom of Pimlico Plumbers' Charlie Mullins and thinks that accountants need a vaccination strategy.
To the man in the street, Pimlico Plumbers is part of an almost ubiquitous network of companies whose vans seem to be on every street.
The group’s name also has additional resonance for those of us with an interest in tax and employment status, since its colourful founder Charlie Mullins decided to go all the way to the Supreme Court when one of his workers claimed to have entitlement to employment rights.
Despite the fact that its operatives drive around in the company’s distinctive vans and sport uniforms clearly indicating their allegiance, Mullins was adamant that they are self-employed contractors operating completely independent of any of his companies. The court didn’t agree.
Where most of our clients would feel rather embarrassed to be at the wrong end of a case of this type, this bold trader not only held his ground but relished the opportunity to get some additional free publicity for the business. The entrepreneur was so successful that, at one point, it seemed as if his face and rasping voice were all over the news media.
Although the case did not necessarily have any bearing on the tax status of Pimlico workers, it might well be seen as influential and HMRC would have been remiss if they did not press home the point.
Mullins has now hit the headlines again by demanding that everybody working for him must have a vaccination against Covid-19. Indeed, to enforce the demand, he is requiring them to sign new contracts under which this will be an obligation. However, it appears that even he is fighting shy of any attempt to vary existing contracts, limiting the contractual obligation to new workers.
Interestingly, given his views on employment status, he is quoted as saying: “We won’t be employing people in the future unless they’ve got a vaccine … If they want to sit at home and not lead a normal life then, don’t have a vaccine.” That “employing” could have raised a few wry eyebrows at HMRC.
There are a number of issues that this brings out, especially that of the freedom of an individual to decide whether or not he or she wishes to receive a vaccination.
These considerations will be equally significant for those running firms of accountants or operating as directors of other organisations.
Should firms demand employees get the Covid vaccine?
What everyone running a practice or business needs to decide in the relatively near future is whether they would like to follow the example of the Pimlico Group and urge or coerce employees and partners to get the necessary injections at the earliest opportunity.
While we would all like to feel that our colleagues will be desperate to get protection against this pernicious virus as soon as the opportunity arises, some may object.
At that point, it will be necessary to weigh up the pros and cons of forcing the issue. Many of us might take the view that we need to protect the bulk of our employees, not to mention the continuing prosperity of our practices.
We then conclude that the only way to achieve this is to ensure that everyone has taken all possible steps to avoid becoming a victim.
This could present a big problem. Do we really want to lose key employees, if by any chance one or more of them decides that this is a bad idea?
Realistically, even Mullins knows that it is impossible to force any employees to accept a change to the terms of their employment contracts if they don’t want to do so.
One approach might be to offer them a small financial incentive to accept a re-drafted employment contract including this obligation and, while we are there, updating any existing historical anomalies.
My initial reaction is that this might be overkill, although clearly any new employees could be required to sign a fresh contract with the relevant clauses inserted.
If you are running a business and do wish to consider taking the legal route, it must make sense to discuss the matter with fellow partners or directors, HR specialists and, if you are serious about going ahead, also a solicitor or barrister.
The gentler approach would be to contact employees and suggest that you will do everything possible to facilitate and enable vaccination at the earliest opportunity; for example, offering paid time off to attend a centre.
Nobody knows how all of this is going to play out over the next few months but the last thing that we need is to suffer from an outbreak of coronavirus because some staff members have belligerently refused to accept a vaccine.