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The scent of fake tan was in the air this week as Strictly Come Dancing returned to our screens in a whirlwind of salsa, sequins and sass, but behind the scenes controversy was brewing as it was rumoured that three of the professional dancers were refusing to get vaccinated.
Ex-dancers, media pundits and even the Prime Minister have had something to say on the issue, with former Strictly pro James Jordan calling for “selfish” unvaccinated dancers to resign from the show and Boris Johnson strongly encouraging them to take their jabs. Yet another former dancer Kristina Rihanoff advocated for the dancers’ right to choose, whilst reminding us that many people are unable to take the vaccine for medical reasons.
Operating under stringent social distancing measures, last year the show was lauded for its approach to keeping cast, crew and contestants safe, with many of the pairs moving in together to form safe bubbles for the duration of the show.
However, over the past few days, the show has hit the headlines for the wrong reasons and echoed the question that many employees and employers have been voicing around the country; can you force staff to get vaccinated?
A quickstep round the legal position
Theoretically, there is currently no specific law that prevents employers from making vaccines a mandatory requirement for those in their employ. However, depending on the reason for the employee’s refusal, making it a requirement could give rise to various claims and it would be important for employers to seek legal advice before making vaccinations mandatory or before taking action against an employee who refuses to be vaccinated.
It has also been reported that one dancer has already gone into isolation after testing positive for Covid, so with the need for our ‘Strictly Stars’ to get up close and personal day in, day out, the potential for the virus to quickly spread through the cast is high. This gives rise to arguments about workplace safety, and the rights of employees who feel that their health is at risk from being in the workplace.
In this situation, employers must listen carefully to staff concerns and do everything possible to make the business premises safe, this will mean following any Government guidance, undertaking risk assessments and implementing any recommendations.
Breach of contract?
While the show producers will have a duty of care to protect the ‘Strictly Stars’ and audience members, it’s unlikely that anyone refusing to participate due to safety concerns would be able to pursue a breach of contract claim (of course, we would need to see contracts to be absolutely certain).
Generally, in these circumstances if someone raises concerns about health and safety, they would more likely consider a negligence claim if something goes wrong (e.g., they suffer an injury). When it comes to Covid-19 it may be that the most difficult aspect of a negligence claim is causation, i.e., proving where the virus was contracted.
It remains to be seen how the Strictly saga will play out over the coming weeks, but the producers can take some comfort that the challenges they are currently facing, are also being tackled by businesses up and down the country.
Michael Jenkins, Head of Legal Advice, Arc Legal Assistance
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