By Smita Menon.
The Covid-19 vaccination roll out has accelerated in the past month, vaccinating about 30% of the eligible population as of 22nd August 2021. The Australian Government offers the vaccine for free and at this stage it is voluntary, except for public health workers, other service workers and workers from listed industries.
The issue of mandatory vaccinations has been hotly debated. At workplaces, employers are encouraging their employees to get vaccinated to minimise the risk of exposure to Covid-19.
Can employees be forced to vaccinate?
No, employees have the right to choose to be vaccinated or not, as they may have a legitimate reason to not be vaccinated. But an employee in certain circumstances will be required to get vaccinated to comply with obligations under a work health and safety law COVID-19 Information for workplaces | Safe Work Australia.
What if an employee refuses to get vaccinated?
- Ask the employee to explain their reasons for refusing the vaccination
- If it’s a legitimate reason, an alternate solution may be reached and this could include Alternative work arrangements – Fair Work Ombudsman
- Employees should discuss options with their employees depending on the circumstances of their individual workplace Consultation and cooperation in the workplace – Best practice guides – Fair Work Ombudsman
While some of the businesses are following the whole “No Jab, No Job” policy, this is a coercive approach that is debatable. Instead, employers can support their employees by:
- Providing leave or paid time off for employees to get vaccinated
- Helping to ensure employees have access to reliable and up-to-date information about the effectiveness of vaccinations – Learn about COVID-19 vaccines | Australian Government Department of Health on the Department of Health’s website
- Where employees do not wish to be vaccinated, or don’t yet have access to vaccinations, explore other options including alternative work arrangements.
When undertaking this case-by-case assessment, it may also be helpful as a general guide to divide work into 4 broad tiers COVID-19 vaccinations: workplace rights & obligations – Fair Work Ombudsman:
- Tier 1 work, where employees are required as part of their duties to interact with people with an increased risk of being infected with coronavirus (for example, employees working in hotel quarantine or border control).
- Tier 2 work, where employees are required to have close contact with people who are particularly vulnerable to the health impacts of coronavirus (for example, employees working in health care or aged care).
- Tier 3 work, where there is interaction or likely interaction between employees and other people such as customers, other employees, or the public in the normal course of employment (for example, stores providing essential goods and services).
- Tier 4 work, where employees have minimal face-to-face interaction as part of their normal employment duties (for example, where they are working from home).
A workplace may have a mix of employees, with different employees performing work in different tiers, all of which could change over time. The coronavirus pandemic doesn’t automatically make it reasonable for employers to direct employees to be vaccinated against the virus.
If you are unsure about how to approach this in your workplace, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us for advice .