(Barbados) – Local businesses in Barbados are being cautioned against using strong-arm tactics to ensure that employees and/or prospective employees accept COVID-19 vaccines, as it could well be against the law.
Describing the subject as “extremely complex” Executive Director of the Barbados Employers’ Confederation (BEC) Sheena Mayers-Granville could offer no firm position on whether one’s vaccination status could legally be used as a prerequisite for a job.
President of the Barbados Private Sector Association Edward Clarke, however, warned that while workers should not be forced, refusal to be vaccinated could result in more social and economic stagnation for the foreseeable future.
Section 6 of the Employment (Prevention of Discrimination) Act prohibits employers from demanding that persons “answer questions” or “undergo a test for a medical condition as a precondition to entering a contract of employment or as a condition for the continuance of employment”. The only exception to this rule is found in section 8 of the Act which says such measures may only be enforced “to determine whether the person satisfies, or continues to satisfy, a genuine occupational qualification.
“In practical terms, what that has been interpreted to mean is that while an employer can request medical documentation, such as a Food Handler’s Certificate or a Fit for Work Certificate, employers should generally refrain from asking specific questions regarding medical conditions unless directly related to the performance of the job. Therefore regarding the vaccine, this will need to be evaluated based on the specific situation under consideration,” Mayers-Granville explained.
Since January, dozens of establishments in the public and private sector have closed their doors at intervals due to COVID-19 cases among staff. Even with limited businesses open during the lockdown the trend has continued. The Bridgetown Port temporarily closed its main administrative building after four employees tested positive, and just yesterday, popular Bridgetown supermarket Cherish Cosmetique Inc. announced a seven-day closure after an employee tested positive.
Earlier this week, the country received 100,000 doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. Frontline workers and vulnerable citizens are among the first 50,000 to receive their injections, as public health officials target a 60-70 per cent immunised population.
Meanwhile, at least one religious group continues to voice its opposition to the vaccines. Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF) Commissioner Tyrone Griffith has also made it clear that officers will not be mandated to accept the injections.
Citing “infringements” on “personal freedoms”, Clarke, the BPSA head, also discouraged businesses from seeking to compel workers to accept vaccination. He is however hoping that workers would adopt a “common-sense” approach to reduce the likelihood of national lockdowns and unplanned business closures.
“You can’t discriminate like that unless it becomes a national policy that you are required to have a vaccine. The Government can institute something like that if they want to, but I don’t think that we as a private sector would be able to enforce anything like that in Barbados. I just don’t think that is something we would want to do when people have freedom of choice,” Clarke told Barbados TODAY.
He added: “I am just waiting for the phone call to tell me when to come and get [the vaccine]. I certainly have no problems taking the vaccine… and I think we should all be prepared to take it.”
“It’s either that or we continue living the way we’re living now for a very long time and I have no desire as a human being to continue living like this. So I would support and ask that everyone who can get the vaccine do so as soon as possible…they just need to be well educated and understand the benefits as well as the risks,” he concluded.