Pimlico Plumbers, a London based firm of plumbers, featured in the press in 2018 when the Supreme Court held that the plumbers working for the firm were ‘workers’ rather than self-employed. This was an important finding for the staff at Pimlico, as it meant that they were entitled to the employment rights of a worker, including holiday pay, which they would not have enjoyed if they had been found to be self-employed.
Recently Pimlico has been subject to further media attention, when Chairman of the company Charlie Mullins revealed plans to rewrite the employment contracts of the workers, to require them to be vaccinated against coronavirus.
This approach could be problematic for the company from an employment point of view, with the potential for claims against Pimlico. Companies cannot force staff to have a vaccination, and to attempt to do so may undermine the trust and confidence that the employee has in their employer. There is an implied term of mutual trust and confidence in the employment contract, and so for the employer to breach this by forcing an employee to have a vaccination could breach this term. This may lead to constructive dismissal claims if the employee resigns as a result of the policy.
Furthermore, the introduction of this policy could put Pimlico at risk of discrimination claims. Indirect discrimination occurs when a particular group of people with a protected characteristic are disadvantaged by a policy or practice an employer has implemented. For example, if there are staff at Pimlico who refuses to have the vaccine for a religious reason, or due to a strong belief against vaccines, this could amount to indirect discrimination.
Pimlico Plumbers have since released a statement on their website confirming that existing workers will not be forced to have the vaccine. However, Mr Mullins has suggested that potential new recruits could be required to have the vaccine before starting with the company. This approach could also be risky for Pimlico, as protection against discrimination covers the recruitment process, not just after employment has begun. As such, Pimlico could be opening themselves up to discrimination claims from potential workers, for the reasons above, if they reject an applicant solely on the basis that they refuse to be vaccinated.
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