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Working life - 10.08.2021 klo 09.00

What employees should know if their employer asks about Covid vaccinations

Photo: Getty Images

Employees can, and indeed should, tell about their vaccination state voluntarily. Employers can encourage people to get vaccinated, for example by facilitating vaccination during working time. However, no-one can be forced to get vaccinated, tell about it or get tested.

PAM has been contacted about whether employers can require employees to get vaccinated for Covid and whether vaccination details must be given to employers.

“Covid vaccination is voluntary for everyone in Finland. The basic assumption is that employees do the work in their employment contract even if they are unvaccinated. In certain cases there may be situations in which an unvaccinated employee can’t do all their tasks, but in service sectors I would say this is rare at the moment. It mostly applies to workers in the healthcare sector caring for people who are seriously ill”, says SAK’s Collective Bargaining Specialist Karoliina Huovila, who has looked into the subject.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers are required to ensure a healthy and safe working environment, and protecting employees with vaccines is one way to achieve that. At present it seems that vaccination does not fully remove the risk of being infected with or transmitting Covid, but it significantly reduces person-to-person spread of the virus. In service sectors the work is often contact work among people where Covid infection generally comes from a large group of exposed individuals. 

According to SAK’s Huovila, employers can encourage vaccination, for example by facilitating getting vaccinated during working time without loss of earnings and through occupational healthcare. She thinks ease of vaccination could be a good incentive.
If an employer asks an employee if they have been vaccinated, do they have to say?

“Certainly it often makes sense to say voluntarily if you’ve been vaccinated as this helps to protect health at the workplace. But vaccination or non-vaccination is health information that you don’t need to tell your employer if you don’t want. Employers also can’t access vaccine information themselves, for example through occupational healthcare. That information can only come from employees themselves”, Huovila points out.

Also, employees must not be penalised for not being vaccinated or telling their vaccination status.
“In an employment relationship, the employer is entitled to direct matters related to doing the job, meaning what is done, where and when, and to oversee that employees comply with instructions. Ordering vaccination for Covid is not part of the employer’s right of direction”, Huovila explains.

Huovila encourages involving occupational healthcare in workplace discussions together with the occupational safety representative and the shop steward to avoid possible abuses.

PAM has also become aware of a case where an employer required an employee to get vaccinated or take a Covid test before the start of each shift.

“You can offer testing, but you can’t force it. Situations vary and testing should comply with official health guidelines. Those who are asymptomatic are not necessarily tested, for example. Preventive protection measures at the workplace, like wearing a mask, maintaining sufficient distance and good hand hygiene are effective ways to combat the virus at the workplace. Those who come into contact with others at work should continue to use protective equipment, especially masks, and employers can require this.”