Can I make my staff get a COVID vaccine?

You’ve done everything possible to keep staff safe from COVID-19.

Now the vaccine has arrived, and with it the Federal Government's assurance that a high vaccination take-up will lead to a resumption of pre-pandemic life.

But what can you do to ensure your staff embrace the vaccine?

We explain your role in the vaccination rollout.

COVID-19 vaccines are rolling out across Australia.

Mandatory COVID-19 vaccine

As at July 2021, the COVID-19 vaccine is mandatory for quarantine workers and anyone working in the aged care industry.

For aged care staff, the first vaccine must be administered by September 17. As of July 27, in-home aged care providers must report weekly on the COVID-19 vaccination status of their workforce, including contractors and volunteers.

The vaccine will be a condition of working in an aged care facility and enforced via state, territory and Commonwealth authorities and compliance measures.

The timeline for quarantine workers varies between states.

In WA, hotel quarantine workers who have not been vaccinated have been prevented from entering quarantine facilities since May 10, 2021.

The Public Health Order applies to security personnel, cleaners and hotel staff who have contact with guests and guest's rooms, medical and health staff, ADF personnel and WA Police who work within the hotel quarantine system.

The question of whether COVID-19 vaccinations should be a condition of employment has not yet been tested in a court or tribunal, meaning there is no case law to guide employers.

'Reasonable and lawful' directions

Workers are required to comply with reasonable and lawful directions from their employer, which includes the health and safety of employees and customers.

For example, some workplaces require their staff to meet certain medical and fitness standards to do their job.

Requiring your staff to stay home if unwell, get a COVID-19 test or self-isolate are classified as reasonable directions.

Safe Work Australia advises that under WHS laws, you have a duty to eliminate or if not possible, minimise, so far as is reasonably practicable, the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace.

"You may not be able to completely eliminate the risk of workers being exposed to COVID-19 while carrying out work," it says.

"However, you must do all that is reasonably practicable to minimise this risk and vaccination should be considered as one way to do so in the context of a range of COVID-19 control measures."

It notes, however, that "it is unlikely that a requirement for workers to be vaccinated will be reasonably practicable".

To reduce risks such as COVID-19 in the workplace, you must:

  • undertake a risk assessment for your business (more information is available on the risk assessment page);
  • consider the available control measures and how they will help manage the risks of COVID-19, including any available vaccines, taking into account available evidence;
  • consult with workers and HSRs about COVID-19 and relevant control measures, including the COVID-19 vaccines (more information on your consultation obligations is available on the consultation page); and
  • determine what control measures are reasonably practicable for you to implement in your workplace (more information on the meaning of reasonably practicable is available on the risk assessment page).

Employers must carefully consider such policies, ensuring you comply with any public health orders in place.

For guidance, contact CCIWA Employee Relations Advice Centre on 9365 7660 or advice@cciwa.com.

Case study 1

As a recent Fair Work Commission (FWC) ruling found, whether employers can make their staff get a vaccine comes down to balancing an employer’s duty of care with the needs of employees.

The ruling involved a Brisbane unfair dismissal claim from childcare worker Nicole Arnold and her employer Goodstart Early Learning in November 2020.

Arnold refused to get a flu vaccination, citing her belief systems, despite Goodstart making it a condition of her employment in April 2020.

The FWC dismissed Arnold’s case on the grounds that Goodstart’s vaccination policy was “lawful and reasonable in the context of its operations, which principally involve the care of children, including children who are too young to be vaccinated or unable to be vaccinated for a valid health reason".

Case study 2

In October 2020, in-home aged care worker Maria Glover lodged an unfair dismissal claim with the FWC after her employer Ozcare stopped rostering her to work.

Ozcare introduced a mandatory flu vaccine program for its workers in April 2020, requiring workers to provide supporting evidence for a medical exemption if they refused a vaccine.

Glover, who had worked at Ozcare since 2009, refused to take part in the vaccine program on the grounds that she had an adverse reaction to a flu shot as a child.

When Glover declined to be vaccinated in 2020, her employer no longer rostered her for work. She told the FWC her dismissal was “harsh, unjust or unreasonable”.

In May 2021 the FWC upheld her dismissal, ruling it was lawful and reasonable for Ozcare to have all client-facing employees immunised against the flu.

CCIWA's eLearning library has several modules to help you maintain a COVID-safe workplace.

For up-to-date information about COVID-19 and how it impacts business, visit CCIWA's COVID-19 page

For information and advice on managing your employees, contact CCIWA's Employee Relations Advice Centre on (08) 9365 7660 or advice@cciwa.com

You’ve done everything possible to keep staff safe from COVID-19.

Now the vaccine has arrived, and with it the Federal Government's assurance that a high vaccination take-up will lead to a resumption of pre-pandemic life.

But what can you do to ensure your staff embrace the vaccine?

We explain your role in the vaccination rollout.

COVID-19 vaccines are rolling out across Australia.
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