Multinational investment bank UBS has told its staff that if they don’t wish to receive a vaccine against Covid they can apply to work from home.
Ralph Hamers, CEO of the Zurich and Basel-based bank told the Swiss Economic Forum on 2 September: “We have 25,000 employees alone in the US and thousands more in Singapore and Hong Kong, and every country has a different legal framework around what you can and can’t make mandatory.”
He added: “The pandemic has delivered solutions to manage the risk of carrying the virus and passing it to your colleagues, and that is to work from home.”
Those who decide not to get vaccinated will be able to work remotely most of the time, according to the bank.
The bank has several offices in the UK, in London, Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Newcastle.
Part of the reason for the policy is that in Switzerland itself the vaccination effort has made only limited headway compared with some countries. So far it has, according to Statista, vaccinated at the rate of 110 doses per 100 people. This makes it 21st on the list in Europe. Malta, Iceland and Denmark lead the way with about 150 doses per 100 people.
The slowdown in vaccinations has been seen in many affluent countries once around 50% of the population has been jabbed but in Switzerland it has been particularly pronounced. All of the countries Switzerland borders has a higher proportion of the population vaccinated.
The decision to allow those without the vaccine to remain working at home comes two months after UBS set out plans to offer most of its 70,000 global employees hybrid working options.
“We have already identified two thirds of our jobs can continue to work from home and therefore we are developing a model of hybrid working,” Hamers said. “There will be days where we want to come in and work in your teams physically.”
In July Hamers said that it was “really difficult” for between a quarter and a third of the bank’s staff, including traders, to work from home.
Meanwhile, Deutsche Bank AG is making vaccination status a condition for entering its buildings in the US with all clients and employees entering its Deutsche Bank Center in New York now having to show proof of vaccination.
Credit Suisse Group AG – a chief rival to UBS – has pushed back the date for unvaccinated workers to return to US locations while stipulating that those with both jabs should return to premises by 7 September.
Alexandra Carn, employment partner at London-based Keystone Law, said the decision by UBS reflected the legal complexities facing multinational firms dealing with the return to office and varying rates of vaccination.
“Within multinational organisations like UBS, senior leadership has to consider whether a multijurisdictional policy is practical when many countries have different rules in terms of compulsory vaccination and the return to the office. The US, for example, takes a very different approach to the UK with regards to compulsory vaccination of staff.
“In England, the only industry where Covid-19 vaccinations are legally required is the care home sector, and that is subject to an ongoing legal challenge. ”
Employers, he said, therefore, could not force employees to physically have vaccinations; all they could do was treat employees who were not vaccinated differently, including dismissing them, but to do so was fraught with legal risks.
Carn added: “However, as we are still waiting for cases to go through employment tribunals in relation to vaccination status for employees, employers do not have legal precedent to rely on as yet.
“This approach by UBS appears to be adopting a flexible attitude in respect of unvaccinated workers by allowing them to continue to work from home. However, there are clear limitations to such a policy. As UBS acknowledges, not all employees can work from home permanently and this highlights the need for consideration on a case by case by basis of an employee’s individual circumstances.”