The Federal Government has highly recommended that each eligible person in Australia should be vaccinated against Covid-19 but has stopped short of mandating this is the case. Most State Governments, with the primary responsibility for the health care operations within their respective states have directed individuals involved directly in patient care in the Aged Care and Disability Support sectors be vaccinated as soon as possible as has been the practice previously with severe influenza outbreaks. Similarly, individuals at high risk of covid -19 exposure through their workplace (covid wards and hotel quarantine workers) are required to be vaccinated to limit the risk of covid escaping these controlled environments.
In what is likely to the be the first of many workplace directives, the Shepparton based SPC Ardmona will require ALL employees, contractors and visitors to their sites to be vaccinated by the of the year. The company will pay all workers for the day of their vaccination, and if required, cover the days after should mild side effects require time off work. The company have reportedly taken this initiative to protect their community and be able to maintain consistency of supply of their tinned food products. Similarly, Qantas has requested the Federal Government make it compulsory for all airline industry workers to also be vaccinated to protect the availability of flights across Australia.
But is this legal? Technically, NO. Employers can facilitate, encourage and reward employees for being fully vaccinated (alcohol is explicitly prohibited as an incentive), a practice many have done annually with the seasonal flu vaccination.
In light of the potentially severe disruption of business through a covid exposure in the workplace, it is understandable that some employees will take the proactive step in requiring their staff to be vaccinated, particularly in those sectors where remote working is not practical. Many of these businesses may also introduce rapid antigen testing or periodic PCR testing of sectors of their workforce to minimise the risk of outbreaks.
With talk of ‘’vaccine passports” becoming required for entry into entertainment and sporting venues, it is a natural extension of these “passports” becoming part of the employment environment. Allowances will need to be made for those individuals with a medical condition or religious belief who cannot be vaccinated against Covid.
It is expected that Covid, in its various strains, will be with the world for the foreseeable future. Under workplace safety regulations, employers have an obligation to provide a safe work environment for all staff. Stopping short of making covid-19 vaccinations a requirement for employment, employers may well put restrictions on the roles that non vaccinated staff can undertake to minimise the risk of an outbreak across their business.
The SPC Ardmona action may well prove to be a landmark case for employment standards across Australia. Only time will tell.
Has your employer mandated vaccinations?