Can an employer require compulsory COVID-19 vaccination? If yes, are there any exceptions or special circumstances that an employer must consider?
No, it is not possible for an employer to require COVID-19 vaccination from its employees. In Finland, the Finnish Government has issued a decree on the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations. According to the decree, vaccination is voluntary for everyone. This also includes employees in the health care sector, where, in certain circumstances, the employer can require employees and job applicants to have received certain vaccinations.
Can employees refuse to be vaccinated? How does an employer need to balance its obligation to provide a safe work environment with an employee’s rights?
Yes. Although the employer can encourage its employees to get the COVID-19 vaccination (by, for example, allowing employees to get vaccinated during working hours), the employees have a full right to refuse. Also, due to rather strict privacy protection of the employees and the job applicants, the employer is not even entitled to request the employee or the job applicant to provide any COVID-19 vaccination information.
Employers should focus on other measures in providing a safe work environment for employees. A safer work environment may be achieved through remote work, social distance, face masks and good (hand) hygiene. Workplace safety and employees’ health must be continuously assessed.
In the event of a refusal, can an employee be dismissed for refusal to comply with the employer’s vaccination policy? Will the employee’s refusal constitute just cause for termination?
No. Since taking the COVID-19 vaccine is voluntary for everyone in Finland, an employee cannot be dismissed for refusing to get vaccinated. Also, no other disciplinary measures can be taken towards an employee.
If, however, the employer would choose to dismiss the employee based on the refusal to get vaccinated, this would most likely be considered as an illegal action. Termination of employment without legal grounds can lead to an obligation to pay compensation to the employee, equal to between three and 24 months' salary. If the employee is holding the position of an employee representative, the maximum compensation is 30 months’ salary.
Outi Tähtinen, Castrén & Snellman