COVID-19 Vaccinations and the Workplace
The first COVID-19 vaccination in Australia rolled out on 21 February 2021 preceded by a wave of protests. With the rollout, comes a thorny question for employers about individual rights, workplace health and safety, and vaccination enforcement.
The rollout, managed in phases, is expected to complete by the end of 2021 (you can check your eligibility here). While the Australian Government’s COVID-19 vaccination policy states that vaccination “is not mandatory and individuals may choose not to vaccinate”, this does not mean that there will not be punitive initiatives for those failing to vaccinate including proof of vaccination to move across borders. Australia for example, already has a precedent with “No Jab, No Play” policies in place to access child care payments (the ability to object to vaccination on non-medical grounds was removed from 1 January 2016).
There are currently no laws or public health orders in Australia that specifically enable employers to require their employees to be vaccinated against coronavirus. However, it is likely that in some circumstances an employer may require an employee to be vaccinated.
Can we require customers to be vaccinated?
Some high risk industries are likely to require customers to be vaccinated or where they cannot be vaccinated, subject to heightened measures such as quarantine and/or testing. Qantas CEO Alan Joyce recently told A Current Affair, “We are looking at changing our terms and conditions to say, for international travellers, that we will ask people to have a vaccination before they can get on the aircraft.” Qantas is expected to release its position middle-to-end 2021 on domestic and international travel.
For employers in high risk industries, it’s important to maintain a conversation with employees and consult an industrial relations specialist if your workplace intends to require vaccinations for employees and/or customers.