Preparing for vaccination as a condition of employment and volunteering

The government recently announced that from April 2022 regulations will be put in place which will mean only fully vaccinated staff and volunteers will be allowed to deliver Care Quality Commission (CQC) services, apart from under limited exceptions. These regulations will apply to those who have direct face-to-face contact with service users, including non-clinical roles. The guidance to accompany this announcement (PDF) has now been published. It’s important for charities to be aware of these upcoming changes, and to consider how this may affect their staff, volunteers and the people they support.

What is changing?

Following a recent national consultation (PDF), the Department of Health and Social Care announced vaccination against covid-19 will become a condition of deployment by 1 April 2022, subject to parliamentary approval, within the health and social care sector. This will apply to organisations delivering CQC regulated health and social care services. Parliamentary approval is expected to happen on 6 January 2022, from which point a 12 week grace period will commence.

This will mean that many staff and volunteers will have to provide evidence they’ve been vaccinated, subject to limited exceptions. Unvaccinated individuals will need to have had their first dose by 3 February 2022 in order to be fully vaccinated by 1 April 2022.

What are the key implications for volunteers, staff and organisations?

There are many considerations for organisations with staff and/or volunteers who may be affected. It’s important to recognise not everyone has equal access to or interest in receiving vaccinations. Our blog, Barriers to mass vaccination and the role of charities and volunteers, gives more information and considerations for charities. It’s also vital we consider how people who engage with these services will be affected.

Organisations may find these changes give people who receive CQC-rated services more confidence or reassurance. However, people who receive services may be negatively affected if staff and volunteers choose not to be vaccinated and can no longer be deployed to support them.

Staff and volunteers may be concerned about these changes and the impact on their roles. Charities should be prepared to have conversations with their staff and volunteers to understand their needs and signpost them to relevant support if necessary. Care should be given to protect people who are medically or otherwise exempt, and to ensure that updated organisational policies and procedures don’t exclude or discriminate against them.

Legal implications

Charities will need to be cautious of implementing blanket changes to vaccination policies. Not all roles are within the scope of the guidance and charities should be careful about requiring vaccination for staff and volunteers where it’s legally required. The flow chart on page 25 of the guidance (PDF) should help charities work out which roles are and aren’t within scope.

There’s a risk the sector will see more claims of unfair or constructive dismissal where charities claim they’ve had to dismiss staff due to non-compliance without proof of exemption. It will take time for the legal principles for these cases to be established.

Data protection

Once in law, these regulations will mean charities will have to process and store what is referred to as ‘special category’ data. Charities will have to treat this type of data with special care and make sure their processing of it is generally lawful, fair and transparent. Organisations will need to update their privacy notices, explaining to individuals how their data is being used, ensuring that data is kept securely and access is controlled. Furthermore, if charities are processing data because of a legal obligation, they’ll need to make clear to the individual whose data it is that they have no right to erasure, data portability or right to object.

Resource implications

Charities may find members of staff and/or volunteers choose or are required to move on from their roles. It can be expensive and time consuming to recruit for new posts and many organisations are already holding vacancies or facing difficulties finding volunteers. Charities will want to be prepared for potential additional costs or resources for roles which will need to be replaced if staff and/or volunteers are unable or unwilling to be vaccinated.

How charities can plan for these changes

We recommend any charities delivering CQC rate services keep up to date with this issue and read the guidance carefully. The action plan outlined on page 16 of the guidance (PDF) is a helpful starting point for organisations.

Some key actions you can take to prepare include:

  • Audit the roles in your organisation which may be affected. Not every role will fall within the scope of the guidance so it will be important to understand this in detail.
  • Review and update your organisation’s risk assessments, paying particular attention to resource implications of these changes and planning for contingencies if significant numbers of volunteers or staff cannot be deployed in their roles.
  • Plan to have early conversations with staff and volunteers to identify who may need additional support to access vaccination. Organisations should prepare and support managers to have these conversations in a balanced and sensitive manner. This can include understanding where you could signpost to for those who have concerns or need more information or support. Guidance from the British Red Cross on how to have a difficult conversation about vaccines could be useful.
  • Plan for how you’ll process and store and special category data according to UK General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

We want to hear from you

We’ll be working to understand the implications of this guidance for volunteer involving organisations in full. We’re hosting an event on January 13 2022 to discuss the practical implications, and to hear from volunteer involving organisations on how they’re preparing.

In the meantime, we’re very keen to hear from you about this issue. Email information, feedback and concerns to policy@ncvo.org.uk. Please do get in touch with a response to any or all of these questions:

  • How will these changes affect your organisation, your staff and volunteers? Think about your capacity to deliver services, your risk assessment processes, and any data protection or other legal implications.
  • How do you plan to prepare for these changes? Think about how you’ll conduct risk assessments, audits of which roles are likely to be affected, and any resource implications.
  • How will you support your staff and volunteers, particularly anyone who may be reluctant or less able to seek vaccination? Think about:
    • how you might have conversations directly with your staff and/or volunteers
    • how you might signpost to other organisations
    • how you might support the transition to other roles or out of your service if this is required.
    • what practical guidance or information would support you to adapt to these changes?

Further support

While we can’t help interpreting the guidance, our practical support team can direct you to helpful information and resources. Contact us at knowhow@ncvo.org.uk.

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Catherine Goodall is a senior policy officer at NCVO, working primarily on public services policy. She has a background in research and practice, working with local authorities and universities to drive service improvement and facilitating participatory action research.

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