Can an employee be fired for refusing to take a vaccine?

Friday March 19 2021

Caroline Mboijana

By Caroline Mboijana

Dear Caroline,
For now, the Covid-19 vaccine is only for frontline medical workers, and other vulnerable groups. However, soon it will be available for the rest of the population. If an employee is not comfortable taking the vaccine and refuses to take it, does their employer have a right to fire them? Do employees have a right to say no to a drug or vaccine they are not comfortable with during pandemics? Kate

Dear Kate,
The issue around vaccines and whether it is mandated regardless of whether you are employed or not is still being debated.

 Given how contagious Covid-19 is, the thinking is everyone will want to be vaccinated. The recent news around Covid-19 vaccination is concerning, as issues around observed side effects come to the debate’s front and centre.  

Concerning whether employers require all staff in employment to be vaccinated, this is not yet a requirement.  Employers are required to provide a safe working environment for staff, and this has been done by updating policies and putting in place systems and processes that protect staff.  

Many have revised their policies requiring covid-19 testing, especially if employees have been travelling across borders, ensuring office interaction is in line with standard operating procedures, and allowing staff to work from home where possible. 

Also, employers are responsible for the same regarding customers’ health. In this regard, they have limited the number of customers in a provided space. They have mandated customers to sanitise before entering the vicinity and responded to SOP’s in as far as the distance between customers.

Mandating employees to take the vaccine has different dynamics that need to be considered. These include aspects around religious beliefs, h taking the vaccine may exacerbate a pre-existing condition, or the person has allergies or a disability. 


Mandating vaccination may be affected if the business cannot guarantee a safe working environment given the nature of work. If circumstances exist that mean vaccinations are necessary to keep the workplace and the public safe, both employers and employees will have no option. 

In the long run, working from home may not be a viable business solution, for example, in manufacturing. In this case, vaccination may be the only solution to keep the business operational and people employed.

Many things are not clear yet, and the vaccination debate is ongoing. The jury is not out in what is mandatory and what is a choice.

Caroline Mboijana,
Managing Director,
The Leadership Team (U)