Prison Service may force officers who refuse vaccine to take unpaid leave

Gript has learnt that the Irish Prison Service (IPS) may force staff who refuse COVID-19 vaccinations to take unpaid leave. Minutes of a recent meeting, pictured below, state that this is due to a decision by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) that it would be “unsafe” for those staff to attend work.

Section of IPS minutes

The minutes are from a meeting held on the 5th of May and were sent to all COVID-19 Prison Liaisons within the IPS by Pat Dawson, Governor of Cork Prison. Whilst the minutes state that this is the current policy of the IPS, Gript Media understands that the IPS is currently seeking advice from the HSA and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) before moving to implement the policy.

A spokesperson for the IPS told Gript that “no final decision had been made by the decision makers on this matter,” that the IPS had “endeavoured to follow central advice on all Covid matters,” and that “both the HSA and DPER intend to issue advice on both the vaccination status of employees and in respect of the attendance status of employees who have been offered the vaccination and refuse.”

However, the HSA, when shown that the IPS minutes stated “the HSA has deemed that it would be “Unsafe” for the employee to attend at work. Unpaid leave is the position,” told Gript that they had not in fact shared any “instruction/guidance” or even “advice” to that effect with the IPS. DPER, when shown the material, told Gript that “no such instruction or advice issued from DPER.”

An online HSA FAQ does state, in relation to employees who refuse vaccination, that “there may be instances, based on the risk assessment… that they would not be regarded as safe to perform certain work tasks, despite additional protective measures being in place.” In these instances, the HSA says, “the employer may have no option but to redeploy the worker to another work task.”

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