The Australian Government has stated their commitment to providing all Australians with access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. While the Government aims to have as many Australians as possible choose to be vaccinated, receiving a vaccination is voluntary.
The Government’s COVID-19 Vaccines National Rollout Strategy identifies priority groups for vaccination, including critical and high-risk workers. Information relating to these groups can be found at the Department of Health website.
All organisations, including the ATDC has a duty under the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws to eliminate, or if that is not reasonably practicable, minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace.
The following information provides guidance in relation to current protocols relevant to the COVID-19 vaccine (noting that these protocols may be subject to change).
The ATDC has prepared this advice with assistance from the Centre for Australian Industry who specialise in industrial relations and human resources.
Where there may be inconsistency between this information and Government or Health agency directions, the latter will override this information.
Under WHS laws can an employer require an employee to be vaccinated against COVID-19?
All Australians are being encouraged to choose to be vaccinated.
However, if an employee has concerns about getting the COVID-19 vaccine they should speak with their treating medical practitioner.
For most employees, their employer will not be able to direct them to be vaccinated under WHS laws. There may be some exceptions, particularly if there are public health directions introduced in Tasmania or by the Commonwealth which may require an employee to be vaccinated.
If an employer is thinking about introducing a mandatory vaccination policy in their workplace, they must consult with their employees before taking any action. An employee should let their employer know if there is a reason why they cannot be vaccinated.
Does an employer have to talk to their employees before requiring vaccinations at their workplace?
Yes. If an employer is thinking about introducing a mandatory vaccination policy in their workplace, they must consult with their employees and/or their authorised representative before taking any action. The employer must give their employees the opportunity to share their ideas and express any concerns and take them into account.
Can a workplace force an employee to get the vaccine?
At this time an employer cannot force an employee to get a vaccination or undergo any medical procedure against their will. However, in some cases, employers may lawfully require workers to have had the vaccine in order to perform work or to undertake certain tasks at the workplace (e.g. if becomes required by public health directions).
If there are employees who cannot be vaccinated, or who chooses not to be vaccinated, and they work at a workplace that requires vaccination, they should talk to their employer or the Fair Work Ombudsman about their options.
What can an employer / employee do if they have concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine?
Any COVID-19 vaccine can only be used in Australia if the Therapeutic Goods Administration has approved it through its rigorous approvals process. More information on the approvals process is available at the Australian Department of Health.
If I am an employee, do I have to be vaccinated?
As an employee, you must take reasonable care of yourself and not do anything that would adversely affect your health and safety or others health and safety within the workplace. You must also follow any reasonable health and safety instructions from your employer.
You will have to be vaccinated, if there is a law or direction in place which requires you to do so for your position. More information on public health directions in Tasmania is available via the Tasmanian Government.
If an employee is vaccinated, do they still have to take other precautions such as physical distancing and frequently washing their hands?
Yes. It is important that employees who are vaccinated continue to take the following steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19:
- work safely and observe any new requirements for physical distancing (even if it means performing tasks in a different way to what they are used to)
- follow instructions (e.g. about how to wash hands thoroughly)
- ask if they are not sure how to safely perform the work
- use personal protective equipment (PPE) in the way they were trained and instructed to use it, and
- report any unsafe situations (e.g. a lack of soap in the bathroom) to their Manager.
The employee and employer are both required to ensure everyone in the workplace keeps practising COVID-19 safe measures, even after the vaccine rollout begins.
It would be usual to for employees to notify their employer that they have received the COVID-19 vaccine. However, they should speak with their CEO if they do not want to let their Manager know if they are vaccinated and why.
What if the employer and employee disagree?
If there is disagreement, then the standard organisational grievance and consultation processes will be undertaken.
If there is a law or direction in place requiring an employee to be vaccinated and the employee refuses, this may result in the employee being unable to undertake the inherent requirements of their position and as such a consultation process will occur, noting that potential sanctions may apply.
Should this occur, employees may choose to contact the Fair Work Ombudsman.
Where can an employer / employee find out more information on the Australia Vaccination Strategy?
The Australia Government, states and territories, WHS regulators and the health and medical sectors are working together to implement the arrangements under the Australian Vaccination Strategy and detailed rollout plans.
Further information about the Australian Government’s COVID-19 Vaccine National Rollout Strategy is available via the Australian Department of Health.
If someone needs information on their rights and obligations under workplace relations laws go to the Fair Work Ombudsman website.