No jab, no job…?
Despite protests, the first COVID-19 vaccination in Australia rolled out on 21 February 2021. This has raised questions for employers about individual rights, workplace health and safety, and vaccination enforcement.
The Australian Government’s COVID-19 vaccination policy states that vaccination “is not mandatory and individuals may choose not to vaccinate”. However, people who fail to vaccinate may rethink if restrictions such as proof of vaccination to move across borders are imposed.
There are currently no laws or public health orders in Australia that specifically enable employers to require their employees to be vaccinated against coronavirus. However, it is likely that in some circumstances an employer may require an employee to be vaccinated.
Can an employer require an employee to be vaccinated?
For most employers, probably not. The Fair Work Ombudsman, however, states that there are “limited circumstances where an employer may require their employees to be vaccinated.” These are:
- The State or Territory Government enacts a public health order requiring the vaccination of workers (for example, in identified high-risk workplaces or industries).
- An agreement or contract requires it – some employment agreements already require employees to be vaccinated and where these clauses exist, they will need to be reviewed to determine if they also apply to the COVID-19 vaccine.
- A lawful and reasonable direction – employers are able to issue a direction for employees to be vaccinated but whether that direction is lawful and reasonable will be assessed on a case by case basis. It’s more likely a direction will be “reasonable” where, for example, there is an elevated risk such as border control and quarantine facilities, or where employees have contact with vulnerable people such as those working in health care or aged care.
If an employee refuses to be vaccinated on non-medical grounds in a workplace that requires it, standard protocols apply. That is, the employer will need to follow through with disciplinary action – there are no special provisions that enable suspensions or stand downs for employees who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
For employers in high risk industries, it’s important to maintain a conversation with employees and consult an industrial relations specialist if your workplace intends to require vaccinations for employees and/or customers.
Click HERE to check when you will be eligible to receive a vaccination.
Please Note: Many of the comments in this publication are general in nature and anyone intending to apply the information to practical circumstances should seek professional advice to independently verify their interpretation and the information’s applicability to their particular circumstances