Mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations – updates you need to know

23/09/2021 - 11:30

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With a number of major Australian employers have recently introduced mandatory COVID-19 vaccination across their workforces, now more than ever it is crucial for businesses to understand where they stand on mandatory staff vaccinations.

Since our recent article [here], Qantas, SPC and now Telstra have introduced mandatory vaccination policies into their workplaces. We summarise below what these employers are proposing and what you need to know.

Updated advice from the Fair Work Ombudsman

The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) has recently updated their guidance regarding compulsory COVID-19 vaccinations for employees.

FWO have adapted a tiered approach based on the exposure risk of an employee. This approach is stepped out below.

  • Tier 1 Work: Where employees have an increased risk due to their interaction with other persons. E.g. Hotel quarantine.
  • Tier 2 Work: Where employees work with those who are considered vulnerable to COVID-19. E.g. Health care workers
  • Tier 3 Work: Where employees work essential services. E.g. retail stores.
  • Tier 4 Work: Where employees have minimal interaction during the course of their employment. E.g. those who work from home.

FWO’s position is that:

  • An employer’s direction to employees performing Tier 1 or Tier 2 work is more likely to be reasonable, given the increased risk of employees being infected with coronavirus or spreading the virus to vulnerable people.
  • An employer’s direction to employees performing Tier 4 work is unlikely to be reasonable, given the limited risk of transmission of the coronavirus.

Major employers implementing mandatory vaccination

  • In August 2021, Qantas announced that it was implementing a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy for its workforce of approximately 22,000 people starting with frontline workers.
  • The move came after a survey of its staff revealed that only 4% of responders were unwilling or unable to be vaccinated and around 75% agreed that vaccination should be mandatory in the workplace.
  • Food processor SPC have also recently indicated it would introduce mandatory COVID-19 vaccination.
  • Telstra announced last week that it would begin consultation about its proposed vaccination policy, which would require all staff working in frontline, business critical and customer facing roles to be vaccinated. The policy also proposes incentives for vaccination. The announcement caused some stir with Unions as it did not seem to accommodate those with genuine medical reasons not to be vaccinated, who it appeared Telstra may ‘medically retire’ if they could not be redeployed.

Key takeaways

In light of these developments, your business should be:

  1. considering what tier its workers fall under the FWO’s guide and whether you should consider introducing mandatory vaccination;
  2. consulting with your workers if you are thinking about introducing a mandatory vaccination policy; and
  3. seeking advice on your options if workers refuse or are unable to be vaccinated.

If you require assistance in relation to any of the information provided above, Pragma’s specialist employment lawyers can provide advice to you and your business to minimise your future risk. Contact us today by emailing us or call us on (08) 6188 3340.

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