With the first COVID-19 vaccinations under the federal government’s COVID-19 Vaccine National Rollout set to take place today, Monday 22 February 2021, employers around Australia will need to consider how the availability of COVID-19 vaccines may impact their broader Work Health and Safety obligations to their employees and persons who come into contact with their business.
Under Australia’s model WHS laws, employers are required to do all that is reasonably practicable to ensure the health and safety of workers and others at the workplace. This duty extends to working arrangements for the COVID-19 pandemic, where employers must eliminate, or if that is not possible, minimise, so far as is reasonably practicable, the risk of exposure to infection from COVID-19 in the workplace.
The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines is an important additional safety measure being driven by various government bodies, that will assist organisations, to continue providing a safe and healthy work environment.
Up until last Friday, there has been very limited commentary from the Federal and state and territory governments and relevant health authorities about which workplaces may have requirements for their employees and patrons to demonstrate proof of vaccination as a requirement for maintaining a safe work environment. However, on Friday 19th February 2021, IR Minister Christian Porter indicated that the latest guidance from the FWO and Safe Work Australia supports and reinforces the Federal Government’s broader vaccination strategy, which is based on the view that vaccinations will remain voluntary for most Australians. Minister Porter further confirmed that the ‘overwhelming majority’ of employers should assume that they won’t be able to require their employees to be vaccinated against coronavirus.
There are currently no laws or public health orders in Australia that specifically enable employers to require their employees to be vaccinated against coronavirus. The Australian Government’s policy is that receiving a vaccination is voluntary, although it aims to have as many Australians vaccinated as possible.
There will be, however, limited circumstances where an employer may require employees to be vaccinated, based on their specific situation.
This space is rapidly evolving, and with the media attention around the vaccine, it is sure to elicit questions from employees about how their workplace will continue to adapt its COVIDSafe plans as the pandemic progresses, including employees opposed to the concept of being required by their employer to be vaccinated against their wishes. For this reason, ER Strategies has developed a template Workplace COVID-19 Vaccination Policy for businesses to consider implementing, alongside their existing COVIDSafe policies and procedures.
Clients with access to our Online HR Resources service can access the policy directly via their login to that service, under the Workplace Health and Safety category.
The timing of this has become critical as organisations can now begin to prepare for the next stages of dealing with the pandemic from a safety perspective, as the vaccinations become available to the general population.
Our template policy contains different options of enforceability for businesses to include, based on what the business considers to be ‘reasonably practicable’ in terms of ensuring a safe work environment. However, we need to bear in mind that for most employers that a mandatory vaccination policy is likely to be unreasonable without enforceable health orders.
All client users of this policy template are encouraged to seek our expert advice when determining what is considered ‘reasonably practicable’, including considerations based on the industry and environment in which your business operates and whether this may include mandating, or just recommending, the COVID-19 vaccinations for your employees.
The policy also includes information about reasons for possible exemptions, as a blanket mandatory vaccination policy may result in some employees seeking to challenge the basis of such a policy.
Ongoing Policy Review
As the COVID-19 Vaccine National Rollout begins, ER Strategies will continue to review this policy template in line with any applicable laws, enforceable government directions and advice issued by the Commonwealth, state and territory governments, as well as feedback suggested by clients.
If you access our draft template and wish to provide any feedback or ask questions about this policy template and how it may relate to your workplace, then clients can call ER Strategies on 1300 55 66 37.