COVID-19 Vaccinations – Employers can ask but cannot mandate

Published June 09, 2021 -
Mandatory Vaccines

Increased talk on whether or not the COVID-19 vaccine should be compulsory for aged care workers has caused confusion among small business owners as to what their own workplace vaccination rights, responsibilities and options are.

As it stands, employers cannot force an employee to get the jab, but state and territory governments may introduce requirements for employees to receive a vaccination in specific circumstances.

However, this should not stop employers from doing everything reasonably practicable to reduce health and safety risks in the workplace.

“The decision to introduce a COVID-19 vaccination program in the workplace should be based upon a valid risk assessment that is undertaken in consultation with employees,” said Larry Drewsen, Health and Safety Manager at Employsure, Australia’s largest workplace relations advisor.

“Where the outcome of the risk assessment indicates the vaccination is the only reasonable control measure, employers have a duty of care to ensure the health and safety of all employees and others who visit the workplace.

“Employers may therefore need to consider introducing a compulsory vaccination program, or ensure employees are vaccinated. As they cannot legally enforce it, employers should consult with employees who are unable, or don’t want the COVID-19 vaccination, and discuss alternative measures that can help them do their job safely.”

While workers do not have to tell their employer if they have been vaccinated, or even give a reason behind it, employers can still ask the question. Employers should assume a worker is unvaccinated if they do not disclose their vaccination status, and should inform that worker of this assumption.

Employers should monitor which employees have been vaccinated by using employee management software, such as BrightHR. This allows them to keep track of who is fully, partially, or not vaccinated against COVID-19, and make rostering / working arrangement changes accordingly.

Employers should also consider introducing a detailed infection control policy which addresses vaccinations. Staff should be reminded of existing infection control measures already in place, such as physical distancing, routine environmental cleaning, and the use of hand-sanitiser and personal protective equipment.

“Employers have an obligation to take reasonably practicable steps to ensure a safe workplace, and vaccinations are a critical component if we are to successfully come out of this pandemic. While vaccinations form part of a business’ methods of controlling the risk of infection, a business must therefore have other plans in place if they have workers who refuse to be vaccinated.

“It is up to employers to encourage their workers to get vaccinated, provide them with relevant government health information, and allow workers who want the jab during work hours the right to do so without loss of pay,” Mr Drewsen concluded.

Media Enquires:

Matthew Bridges
[email protected]

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