Over the coming months, the COVID-19 vaccination is expected to become available to the general public in Australia. Its availability has sparked concerns amongst some that employers may make it a requirement of workers to be vaccinated in order for them to keep their jobs or gain future employment.
Safe Work Australia, the national Work Health and Safety statutory body, have recently stated that at this stage it is unlikely that any requirement imposed on workers, by an employer, to be vaccinated would be considered reasonably practicable. This is in part due to at present public health experts have not yet recommended that a COVID-19 vaccine be made mandatory. Further, a vaccine may not be available in large quantities for some time and not all workers will be medically fit to receive the vaccine.
However, Safe Work Australia has reminded employers of their obligations under Workplace Health and Safety laws to eliminate or, at least, to the best of their ability minimise, the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace.
For some, this has prompted employers to implement or review their occupational immunisation program. This type of program is recommended for employers who have identified, through a risk assessment process, that their workers may be at risk of acquiring a vaccine-preventable disease, such as COVID-19. A key part of an occupational immunisation program involves implementing a Policy that may include the following:
- The specific vaccination requirements for workers;
- Information about the diseases and availability of a vaccination;
- How workers who refuse vaccinations or cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons will be managed;
- How workers will be protected in the period between vaccination and onset of immunity or in the event of vaccine failure.
- How the risk to other workers, volunteers, or any other contacts will be managed.
Whilst the COVID-19 vaccine has not yet been made mandatory employers can take steps to encourage non-immune workers to receive the vaccine when it becomes available.
In the meantime, employers should continue to apply all reasonable control measures, including; physical distancing, good hygiene (e.g. regularly washing hands) and regular cleaning.
If employers have not already, they should start to consider whether any of your workers may be exposed to the risk of infection as part of their work.
If the federal government does not impose mandatory vaccinations, it is unlikely, at this stage, that it will be lawful for businesses to enforce the vaccine for their entire workforce. Therefore, any employer that is contemplating making it mandatory for workers to be vaccinated should obtain legal advice prior to informing workers of the proposed requirement.