Vaccinations and the Workplace: What a business can and can’t do.
It’s understandable that employers and employees are currently exploring their workplace rights and obligations as COVID-19 (coronavirus) vaccines become available throughout Australia.
At present there are no laws or public health orders in Australia that specifically enable employers to require their employees to be vaccinated against coronavirus. The Australian Government’s policy is that receiving a vaccination is voluntary, although it aims to have as many Australians vaccinated as possible.
There are, however, limited circumstances where an employer may require their employees to be vaccinated.
- Employees who interact with people who are at higher risk of being infected with coronavirus (employees working in hotel quarantine or border control),
- employees who have close contact with people most vulnerable to coronavirus (employees working in health care or aged care).
Contracts or agreements containing vaccination terms
Your business’ contracts or agreements may contain terms relating to vaccinations or coronavirus vaccinations more specifically. Employers and employees should check to see if the term applies to coronavirus vaccinations (for example, a term relating only to flu vaccinations does not apply). If there is a term of a contract or an agreement which applies to coronavirus, employers and employees will need to consider whether the term is compliant with anti-discrimination laws. A term that opposes anti-discrimination laws will not be enforceable.
My employer wants me to provide evidence that I’ve been vaccinated. Do I have to provide evidence?
If your employer has given a lawful and reasonable direction to be vaccinated for coronavirus and you agree (in writing), your employer could ask you (the employee) to provide evidence of your vaccination. However, asking an employee to give evidence that they’ve received the vaccine could also raise privacy issues.
Can I ask an employee why they’ve refused to have the coronavirus vaccine?
If you’ve given a lawful and reasonable direction to your employees to be vaccinated for coronavirus and an employee refuses, you could ask the employee why and provide any supporting medical documentation (underlying health risks) that may prevent them from receiving the vaccine. Once again however, asking an employee to give evidence that they’ve received the vaccine could also raise privacy issues.
Can an employee refuse to attend the workplace because a co-worker isn’t vaccinated against coronavirus?
There is no public health order in place preventing attendance in the workplace because colleagues/peers are not vaccinated. It is unlikely an employee could refuse to be in the workplace with their co-worker who isn’t vaccinated. The coronavirus vaccine isn’t mandatory, and the co-worker may have medical reasons for not being vaccinated.
It’s been a tough year for employees and employer’s throughout Australia. The uncertainty, working from home, job security and change to working conditions has possibly been the greatest lesson that COVID-19 has taught us that we are all in this together. So, communication between employee and employer is key.
NB: Employees and employers should consider getting legal advice about their own particular circumstances.
For further assistance, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 1300 55 99 62.