Deborah Pead, Founder and CEO

Are the vaccine hesitant the new office pariahs?

My first office job came with my own desk, a set of stationery and a smelly eyesore of an accessory, a well-used ashtray the size of a bread plate.

When I attempted to remove it, I was advised not to. “But I don’t smoke,” I argued. “Yes, but the boss does,” was the explanation.

It didn’t take long to recognise the boss was in the habit of leaving the ionised air of his opulent first-class office to freely pollute the space of others working back in economy.

Smoking at work was commonplace in the early ‘80s.  Meetings rooms were laid out just so with leather desk blotters, branded stationery, a laden tea tray and an ashtray at every place. The non-smoker had no rights and risked lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease and bronchitis from second-hand smoke.

How the tables have turned. Today the law supports the non-smoker. Smokers must stand outside whatever the weather. Employers can refuse to hire smokers, and if anyone dares to light up at work, the employer could be in breach of the Smokefree Environments Act 1990.

It’s early days yet, but I can see a time ahead when public health measures take as firm a stance with people who won’t get vaccinated – whether you call them anti vaxxers, the vaccine hesitant or just ‘can’t be bothered and too lazy’ vaccinators.

Health and safety of employees in the workplace and a positive safety culture is a mandatory responsibility for directors. It’s not taken lightly; every incident is recorded.  

But right now, employers face an added challenge to ensure health and safety fromCovid-19   without the protection of a compulsory vaccination programme. Putting aside those with underlying health conditions, you’d think that the world would want to unite against COVID-19.

Sadly, I’m starting to realise that’s not the case, and in the absence of public health regulation, employers are expected to design tailored and targeted enticements to incentivise staff to be vaccinated, to reduce the spread of the virus, to save lives.

So, in addition to keeping a business viable in repeated lockdowns employers are now tasked with redesigning the workspace, rewriting job descriptions, and drawing up a list of incentives to cajole, coax and persuade those who put the hocus pocus of anti-vax claptrap ahead of science and the protection of their colleagues and community.

I’m up for the challenge, but I’d like the law to be a helping hand – not a handbrake.

Without a law to mandate Covid -19 vaccinations in the workplace, the responsibility of public health now falls on employers to take positive steps, to engage constructively, to encourage, to support, to inform, to educate, to enable and to bribe incentivise people to stay safe.

All of this will happen against the backdrop of a public health crises perpetuated by the anti-vax brigade.

Without a law that requires Covid -19 vaccinations in the workplace, employers and employees face repeated boom or bust cycles from self-isolation and stress.

Most people find a lot of value in the human connection of work. Colleagues, customers, and clients matter to us and it’s disheartening to hear about people too scared to return to the offices until everyone has been vaccinated.

And for those who refuse a vaccination?  Well, the employer has the option of changing their role or their location of work.

One way or another, the anti vax mentality will divide our workplaces, the us and them, the smoking and non-smoking section.

I feel we need a stronger workplace policy to help employers navigate the weeds with this.

Employers carry the responsibility to keep our teams safe at work. In a time of a global pandemic and an unmatched health crisis, to me, workplace safety looks like the vaccine.

No employer should be penalised for prioritising the common-sense safety of their workplace. I’m all for strong employee rights, but when the situation changes, our rules need to change too.

Without it, it feels like we’ve been chucked the hospital pass.

Like the ‘80s, we have to decide who we are designing our workplaces for. The smokers or non-smokers?

*Disclaimer – I’m lucky to be surrounded by a team of smart professionals at Pead who are all underway with ‘take two for the team’.

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