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LONDON – Gap recently became the first major fashion retailer to implement Covid-19 vaccine mandates for all employees, starting with its offices in New York and San Francisco. From 7 September, any employee entering Gap’s HQ will be required to show proof of vaccination against Covid-19. Elsewhere, in all other locations, unvaccinated employees will be required to wear masks indoors.

Other retailers look almost certain to follow as retailers in the US respond to government pressure to encourage their employees to get vaccinated due to fears over the new ‘Delta’ variant of Covid-19.

The issue of vaccine mandates has caused heated debate. While the consensus appears to be in favour of such measures, there have been widescale protests in Europe around whether or not they are ethical or potentially discriminatory.

There is also an employment law issue to factor in. With this in mind, and with other fashion retailers likely to follow Gap’s stance, we spoke to employment lawyers in the UK and US to look at potential challenges to implementing vaccine mandates in the apparel space.

Selected quotes:

“There’s currently no legal basis the UK government can rely on to force people to be vaccinated”

“Justifying a policy may be more difficult at the moment for fashion retailers as many of their staff are under 30 and they were the last on the list for vaccines.”

“There is no ‘one size fits all’ answer to this question. Certainly, in care home and hospital settings the answer is likely to be yes, and indeed the Government is looking to implement a law to that effect.”

“The legality of such clauses/policies remain untested. Employers would be well advised to carry out analyses of each job role and fully assess all the health and safety risks related to that role.”

“Disciplining an employee for refusing a vaccine could lead to an unfair dismissal claim, particularly if other measures could be used to address the concerns.”

“Employees shouldn’t be asked to declare their vaccination status in any job interviews as this is health related information and pre-employment health questionnaires are generally prohibited.”

“Unless the employee could demonstrate gross negligence, his claim for an adverse reaction to the COVID vaccine will likely be limited to a worker’s compensation claim.”

The full piece, including commentary and analysis from 7 employment lawyers is available to Apparel Insider subscribers. This is a must read for any apparel retailer looking to mandate Covid-19 vaccines for their employees moving forwards.

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