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Landmark ruling finds Covid vaccine dismissals did not discriminate

Tribunal ruled that it is not discriminatory for care sector employers to terminate employment where employees chose not to take Covid vaccinations

An employment tribunal has ruled that it is not discriminatory for employers within the care sector to terminate contracts of employment where employees chose not to take Covid vaccinations.   

In Dimitrova, Chadwick, Hussain, Masiero and Motiejuniene vs. Barchester Healthcare, a group of former employees who worked at Barchester Healthcare claimed that they had been unfairly dismissed after Barchester implemented a policy in early 2021 requiring staff working within the care home to be vaccinated unless they had a medical exemption.

A number of the claimants also asserted that they had been indirectly or directly discriminated against on the grounds of protected philosophical or religious beliefs.

Barchester Healthcare’s legal team, led by Weightmans partner Sejal Raja, successfully defended all claims.

In a first-of-its-kind ruling, Employment Judge Maidment accepted Barchester’s reason for introducing the vaccine which was to reduce the risk of Covid infection in its homes and therefore to reduce death and serious illness among its residents, staff and visitors.

It was argued by the former employees that the requirement to have the vaccine infringed on the claimant’s rights to privacy protected by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). However, this had to be weighed against the Barchester’s aim of protecting the lives of its residents.

The employment judge found that while Barchester’s aim to protect the life of its residents did conflict with staffs’ qualified rights to hold personal beliefs against the Covid-19 vaccination, the absolute nature of residents’ right to life justified its decision to terminate their employment.  

Commenting on the judgement, Sejal Raja, Partner at Weightmans, said:

“This is a significant and welcome ruling, that will have direct implications for those employers in the care industry, who may face similar claims in the future.

“The tribunal recognised the principle, enshrined in law, that people must be allowed to hold, and act, in line with their personal beliefs. But the ruling highlighted that the law also permits difficult but essential decisions to be taken where these rights interfere in order to protect others’ inviolable rights – specifically the right to life.

“This judgement will give care home management teams that acted responsibly, with due process and with the safety of their residents front of mind, confidence in their decisions.

“But it also underlines just how much consideration, care and caution must be taken in any employment decision. These are complex matters, where the rights of staff must be weighed equally against the rights of others. Where any business is unsure of their course of action, it’s essential they seek professional legal advice.”