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Can your employer force you to take a COVID-19 vaccine? A labour lawyer explains

SA has no compulsory vaccination policy and the Constitution says '… everyone has the right to bodily and psychological integrity, which includes the right to security in and control over their body…'.

A resident of the Anni Azzurri elderly care home in Rome receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as part of the coronavirus vaccination campaign by healthcare workers of Asl Roma 1 on 8 January 2021. Picture: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

JOHANNESBURG - Workplaces are areas seen as COVID-19 super spreaders because of the close proximity of colleagues working together and sharing spaces, such as the office kitchen and bathroom. Other super spreader spaces include funerals and other places of that have people close together for a period of time.

There’s scepticism around the vaccine as conspiracy theories are rife and remarks about the vaccines were made by influential politicians and lawmakers.

So, how should workplaces deal with employees who refuse vaccination?

Labour lawyer Danie Pretorius said that it would all come down to a decision made by the Constitutional Court.

“This is because of the various rights that people would rely on to say that you can’t infringe on those rights. For instance, the right to integrity, the right to freedom of religion…”

South Africa has no compulsory vaccination policy, and the Constitution states “… everyone has the right to bodily and psychological integrity, which includes the right to security in and control over their body…”.

The Constitution, however, does limit this right to control to the extent that it is “reasonable and justifiable in an open democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom”.

“My view is that the greater good of society should prevail and the rights of the employer should trump the individual. We should rather adopt a philosophy of ‘we first’ instead of ‘me first’. It wouldn’t be a forced holding down of people but they should say ‘if you don’t want to take the vaccine then you can’t work and if you can’t work, then we don’t need to pay you’. There’s a variety of options,” Pretorius said.

If employees refuse to be vaccinated and several of those people fall ill, management will face increased pressure, making it more difficult to run the company effectively as employees take sick leave or self-isolate.

(Edited by Refilwe Pitjeng)

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