Dozens of companies are considering requiring their unvaccinated employees to take weekly novel coronavirus tests, according to the head of the Malta Employers’ Association (MEA).
Joseph Farrugia said employers have been contacting the association for guidance on how to put the plan in place in a bid to encourage their workforce to get the jab.
It follows APS Bank’s controversial decision to require its employees to be vaccinated or undergo a weekly PCR test every Friday or Saturday, with any office hours used to be deducted from a staff member’s vacation leave.
Farrugia explained that APS was not alone in drawing up such a policy and that many others had sought advice on how and whether they can implement similar rules, to which his reply has always been “yes”.
“It’s not a punishment on individual employees... the intention rather is to minimise the risk,” he said.
The MEA advocated that employers protect their staff and the public by encouraging vaccination or tests, he added.
“It’s in the interest of the health of all employees,” Farrugia said.
“The employer and employees all have the right to know the health risks to which they are exposed.
“So it’s reasonable to ask the employees for a periodical swab test to determine whether they are infected or not.”
It is reasonable to ask employees for a periodical swab test
Farrugia maintained that, since it was a personal choice not to get vaccinated, employers were within their rights to ask employees to use vacation leave if their test appointment fell within work hours.
“The company should not have to bear the cost, so long as it is the employee’s choice not to be vaccinated and so long as it remains their choice,” he said.
Consulted on the policy, a specialist in employment law told Times of Malta that requiring staff to be fully vaccinated would be legal if a needs assessment finds public health is seriously at threat.
“In these cases, an assessment needs to be made as to whether the risk of contamination of the public and other employees outweighs the personal rights of the individuals not to be vaccinated,” he explained, adding airlines would have a strong case to push such a requirement on to their crew due to their particular work environment.
In the case of APS, it might have been more “reasonable” if the bank made this request to all staff who were in contact with the public. However, on the face of it, the rules imposed on the employees and the frequency of testing for those who are not vaccinated seemed disproportionate to the threat involved, the employment specialist said.
To add to that, he seriously doubted the legality of asking employees to cut into their vacation leave if the test fell within office hours.
“If an employer wants to impose a requirement, then he has to give time off for employees to comply or instruct them to carry out such testing out of office hours,” he said.
APS Bank CEO Marcel Cassar said the bank was duty-bound to continue protecting the health of its workforce of 550 employees and to make good the investments it had in place.
“You’re talking of an extended network of many thousands who have lives to get on with and to protect,” Cassar said.
He added that APS had spent hundreds of thousands of euros to keep everyone safe and healthy, from investing in technology to the most flexible remote working conditions.
“Given our large systemic presence and community interaction, how can we not take our public health responsibilities seriously,” he asked.
The APS chief also explained that people with medical issues preventing them from taking the coronavirus vaccine were being directed to human resources for guidance and he anticipated very few employees having to submit to a weekly PCR test.
“This particular situation calls for maturity and responsibility on the part of everyone,” he said.
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