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17 March, 2021 Open access

Business Secretary acknowledges that refusing services or employment to anyone who is not vaccinated against Covid-19 raises discrimination and other legal issues

Letter to Select Committee also confirms that a review of Covid-status certification has opened to consider the ethical, equalities, privacy, legal and operational issues of using certification

The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Kwasi Kwarteng has acknowledged that refusing services or employment to anyone who is not vaccinated against Covid-19 raises discrimination and other legal issues.

As part of its inquiry into The impact of Coronavirus on workers and businesses, in a letter dated 24 February 2021 the BEIS Committee requested details of the potential legislation or regulations that may be needed in relation to the use of so-called ‘COVID passports’, the status of the government’s review into the use of certification, and what guidance the government intends to provide to employers and employees.

Mr Kwarteng’s response includes that -

‘There is no specific statutory provision which employers can rely on to require their staff to be vaccinated. While requiring a vaccination may nevertheless be legally possible in some circumstances, refusing services or employment to anyone who is not vaccinated does raise discrimination and other legal issues.’

In addition, Mr Kwarteng provides further details of the government's review into the use of Covid-status certification - first announced in the Spring 2021 Covid-19 response on 22 February 2021 - saying that -

‘This will be led by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, with full involvement from BEIS and other Government Departments. It will consider the ethical, equalities, privacy, legal and operational issues and what limits, if any, should be placed on organisations using certification. It will draw on external advice to develop recommendations that take account of any social and economic impacts, including for disproportionately impacted groups and individuals’ privacy and security.’

NB - a call for evidence on the role of Covid-status certification in the UK’s recovery from the pandemic was launched on 15 March 2021 and runs for a two week period until 29 March 2021.

Mr Kwarteng’s letter to the Select Committee (10 March 2021) is available from parliament.uk