Sweden: Can employers force employees to take the COVID-19 vaccine?

The COVID-19 vaccine will soon be available in Sweden, and with it comes many questions around the new vaccine. Such as; can employers insist that employees take the vaccination, once available? Statistics show that 25% of the Swedish population would not want to be vaccinated for religious or medical reasons, or fear of side effects. Could employers fire staff that refuses to be vaccinated?

For council/government staff (including many nurses and teachers), there is a constitutional/human rights aspect to this question. This is because it is a constitutional right of the individual in Sweden not to be subjected to bodily intrusions by the state. Making exceptions to this this rule would be a significant challenge from a constitutional point of view. As a vaccination would be considered a major bodily intrusion, it is unlikely this route would be explored.

In contrast, for staff working for private employers, the constitutional right of protection against bodily intrusions do not apply (since the constitution only applies to matters between and individual and the state). However, a private employer must conduct a risk assessment and weigh the interests of the employer to vaccinate staff against the employees’ interest of not being subjected to a severe intrusion to their bodily integrity. In doing so, the employer should also consider current best practice in the workplace.

All things considered; it is unlikely that it would be justified to sacrifice the employee’s bodily integrity. In other words, as a starting point, private employers cannot force an employee to vaccinate. What they can do however, is encourage employees to vaccinate and make the vaccine easily available.

Likewise, it seems unlikely that refusal to vaccinate would be a just cause for termination. However, staff that refuse to be vaccinated may, depending on the circumstances, be assigned to different working tasks (for example, in a hospital).

In Sweden, employers should already now consider that some of their employees will be unwilling to vaccinate, and plan accordingly.

Read a previously published article on the COVID-19 vaccine by Pattie Walsh, Bird & Bird Hong Kong employment partner.

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