New guidance on COVID vaccinations in the workplaceBY Amy Towers
The COVID-19 vaccination program has started to roll out so it's important to understand both employer and employee rights and obligations when it comes to workplace vaccinations.
The rollout of the COVID-19 Vaccination Program in Australia commenced on 22 February 2021. The Australian Government has stated that the COVID-19 vaccines will become available in phases, and priority groups will receive the first doses of the vaccine.
Who are the priority groups to receive initial doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in Australia?
Among the priority groups are health, aged care and disability care workforce, quarantine and border workers, and people who have an increased risk of developing serious illness from COVID-19, including:
- Older people
- Those with a pre-existing medical condition
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people .
Priority access will also be given to people working in critical services, this includes but not limited to people supplying and distributing essential goods and services, such as meat processing.
Once vaccines have been rolled out to priority groups, doses will be made available to all other adults.
To find out more about the phases in which vaccines will be available, the Australian Government Department of Health webpage has detailed information on the COVID-19 vaccine program, and can be accessed here.
The Vaccine Eligibility Checker can be used to see if you can book a COVID-19 vaccination yet. This can be done for yourself or another person. You can access the online Vaccine Eligibility Checker here.
COVID-19 vaccinations & the workplace
While retail workers may not be among the initial groups to receive the vaccination, it won’t be long before the doses will be made available to all people. With access to the vaccine in close reach, retail businesses and their workers may already be seeking clarity on their workplace rights and obligations. Some common questions about coronavirus and the workplace are:
- Can our business require our employees to be vaccinated?
- What happens if an employee refuses to be vaccinated?
- Can an employer require an employee to provide evidence that they have been vaccinated?
- If an employee refuses to be vaccinated, can an employer require evidence about why they’ve refused?
- Can an employer take disciplinary action if an employee refuses to get vaccinated?
- How does a vaccination requirement interact with anti-discrimination laws?
- Can an employee refuse to attend the workplace because a co-worker isn’t vaccinated against coronavirus?
- Can an employer require a prospective employee to be vaccinated before starting work?
To assist in understanding employer and employee rights and obligations, retailers can look to the Fair Work Ombudsman COVID-19 vaccinations & the workplace page, which provides information and guidance in response to the common questions Fair Work has received about coronavirus vaccinations in the workplace.
COVID-19 vaccines as a control measure - WorkSafe Victoria guidance
On 4 March 2021, WorkSafe Victoria published on the WorkSafe website, COVID-19 vaccinations in workplaces guidance. The guidance addresses the use of COVID-19 vaccines in workplaces to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19. In summary, the guidance suggests that the COVID-19 vaccine is one control measure for coronavirus (COVID-19), and it should be considered part of a broader range of controls to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in workplaces. Other control measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, as identified in the guidance, include:
- physically isolating, for example by working from home where it is reasonably practicable
- creating workplace bubbles to minimise contact between workers, for example keeping workers on different shifts separate by using different entry and exit points
- maintaining a physical distance of at least 1.5 metres from others
- wearing a face mask when required, unless a lawful exception applies
- practising good hygiene by regularly washing your hands or using hand sanitiser
- if you feel unwell do not go to work – get tested at a nearby testing location and return home immediately
Tips for retailers on COVID-19 vaccinations in the workplace
1. Become familiar with your obligations as an employer under Fair Work law and Occupational/Work Health and Safety law, in relation to COVID-19 vaccinations in the workplace.
2. Get advice if you are considering requiring your workers to be vaccinated, as it will not usually be reasonably practicable to require your workers to be vaccinated. There are lots of issues to think about - workplace relations, discrimination and privacy issues will also be relevant.
3. Provide adequate information to your workforce on their workplace rights, in relation to COVID-19 vaccinations in the workplace.
Further COVID-19 vaccination resources
- COVID-19 vaccines resources
The Australian Government Department of Health website has new easy to read fact sheets on COVID-19, available on their website, see link below:
- Subscribe to COVID-19 vaccine updates
To keep up to date with the latest information on COVID-19 vaccines, subscribe to the Department of Health' COVID-19 vaccine updates below:
The material within this update is provided for general information and educational purposes in summary form on topics which are current when it is first published. The content does not constitute legal advice or recommendations and should not be relied upon as such.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amy Towers is a Culture & Engagement Risk Expert, who helps senior managers and decision-makers identify their people and culture risks and enable positive practice. With 15 years’ experience solving complex people and workplace problems, Amy delivers the most practical worker engagement and culture risk management programs in Australia and New Zealand.