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Reader question: Can my French boss force me to get a Covid vaccination?

Reader question: Can my French boss force me to get a Covid vaccination?
Photo: Geoffroy van der Hasselt/AFP
The introduction of the health passport was intended to push people towards being vaccinated, but as an employee does your boss have the right to order you to get your doses?

Question: I am fully vaccinated, but I know that several of my colleagues aren’t and they are worried they will be fired. Is it legal in France for bosses to order you to get the Covid vaccine?

The short answer to this is that it depends where you work.

The French labour ministry has published an updated protocol on the rights and responsibilities of employees when it comes to vaccinations and it broadly divides workers into three categories – health workers, workers in health passport venues and everyone else.

Health workers 

The law that introduced the health passport to France also made Covid vaccination mandatory for healthcare workers and employees in nursing homes. This also includes volunteers who work in a health or care setting.

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Penalties – healthcare workers have until October 15th to be fully vaccinated and if they are not vaccinated after this time the employer may take sanctions against them.

However, being non-vaccinated does not alone provide grounds for dismissal. Employers are obliged to tell unvaccinated healthcare workers that they cannot work – the employee may choose to take annual leave, in which case they would be paid for days taken as holiday. If they have no holiday days left to take, they would not be paid for the days that they are not working.

The legality of requiring healthcare workers to be vaccinated has been approved by the Constitutional Council, but a test case between an employer and employee could still be brought before the French Council of State or, when French legal avenues are exhausted, the European Court of Human Rights (although the European court has ruled in favour of compulsory vaccination in several previous cases).

Health passport venue workers

From August 9th, a health passport is required to access many venues in France, and this includes both visitors and employees.

The venues concerned are: bars, cafés, restaurants, cinemas, museums, tourist or cultural sites, leisure and sports centres, medical centres or hospitals as a visitor or for people with non-emergency appointments, long-distance train, bus or (domestic) air travel or any venue with more than 50 people such as festivals and open-air gatherings.

READ ALSO When and where you need a health passport

Employees of those venues need to be able to show a health passport when they show up for work.

This isn’t technically obligatory vaccination, but in reality is similar – the health passport must show one of three things; fully vaccinated status, recovery from Covid within the last 6 months or a test within 72 hours. From mid October ‘convenience tests’ must be paid for at a rate of €29 for an antigen test or €49 for a PCR test. So unless employees who aren’t covered by the ‘recently recovered’ clause are willing to spend €29 every three days to get a test, they will need a vaccine. 

Penalties – employees of health passport venues have until August 30th before they need to show their pass (for visitors the rules are already in place) and this applies to full or part-time employees, contractors or temporary staff and volunteers at these venues.

Employees who cannot show the health passport may, with the employers’ agreement, take time off work using up holiday days, which they will be paid for. If the employer does not agree or the employee has no more holiday time left to take, they can be suspended from work. During the suspension they will not be paid.

The employer must hold a meeting with the employee within three days of the suspension to look at ways to regularise the situation, including offering remote working if this is possible.

The Constitutional Council has approved the rules for health passport venue employees, but added that they cannot be fired outright, and those on short-term contracts cannot have their contracts ended early, unless there are other reasons to terminate the contract.

Fully-vaccinated employees working in health passport venues no longer have to wear masks, although in areas with high case numbers local authorities can re-impose the mask rule and individual employers also have the right to tell their staff to wear masks in the workplace.

Everyone else

For those in workplaces not covered by the health passport, there is no obligation to be vaccinated or present the health passport.

However if a key part of your job involves accessing health passport venues (eg regular long-distance train travel around France) your boss could argue that you are unable to perform your usual role and begin internal disciplinary proceedings, however it is unlikely that this would be cause for dismissal and the usual procedures within the workplace would need to be followed.

What about people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons?

There are a small number of people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons – those people can obtain an attestation de contre-indication from their doctor to show their status as unable to be vaccinated, but they must fit into one of the criteria outlined by the health ministry.

Employer responsibility

Your boss also has some obligations in regard to vaccinations:

  • Employees must be allowed time off work to go to a vaccination appointment and must be paid for that time (including time travelling to and from the vaccination centre) although the employer is entitled to ask to see proof of the appointment.
  • Employees must also be given time off work if they need to accompany a child or vulnerable adult to a vaccination appointment.
  • Some larger companies also have workplace medical staff, and these staff are permitted to give vaccinations, although employees do not have to accept them.

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