As vaccinations have been accelerating, Turkey aims to soon come to the end of its fight against COVID-19, which has been going on for more than a year. According to the latest statement made by the Ministry of Health on 14 June 2021, vaccination priority was given to all employees registered with the Social Security Institution (SSI). However, some employees may not want to be vaccinated. What options do employers have in such cases?
We would like to provide you with a quick guide regarding this issue, which is a hot topic for many employers. The information in this guide is presented as of 17 June 2021, and as the situation evolves, there may be changes in the laws affecting employers as well as this guide. We kindly request the information contained in this guide not to be taken as comprehensive legal advice regarding the subject matter.
1. Can employees be forced to be vaccinated?
Pursuant to the statements made by the Ministry of Health, the COVID-19 vaccine has not been declared mandatory. For this reason, in principle, employees have the right to choose whether to be vaccinated and, in our opinion, it is not possible for employers to force their employees to be vaccinated.
2. If employees do not want to be vaccinated, can employers terminate the employees?
As we stated above, the government does not mandate the COVID-19 vaccine. Therefore, in our opinion, it would be a high-risk approach to terminate employees, who do not want to be vaccinated. In addition to the risk of invalid termination, the employees may also bring discrimination claims.
3. Which methods can employers use as an alternative to termination in case employees do not want to be vaccinated?
Instead of terminating employment agreements, we recommend employers to consider the following methods:
- Making sure that the employee abides by COVID-19 measures (e.g., social distancing and mask requirements)
- Imposing remote working
- Sending employees on annual paid leave
- Sending employees on unpaid leave until 30 June 2021
- Transferring employees to other positions suitable for them by complying with the rules of changes in working conditions (We believe that this method could be considered especially for employees working in sensitive positions.)
In addition to the above, it would be beneficial to make a separate evaluation and obtain legal opinion for each concrete case.
Because of vaccinations accelerating in Turkey, the vaccination of employees and the methods that could be applied with respect to the employees who do not want to be vaccinated will continue to be a hot topic for employers. We recommend employers closely monitor all developments on this subject.