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Businesses can’t force staff to be vaccinated: Fair Work

Employers will be unable to force staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19, as fresh guidance surfaces amid the rollout of Australia’s vaccination program.

Business John Buckley 22 February 2021
— 1 minute read

Following calls for clarity on whether employers can make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for their employees, the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) and Safe Work Australia (SWA) have advised employers to assume employee vaccinations aren’t required. 

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“As a guiding principle, both the FWO and SWA have stressed that the overwhelming majority of employers should assume they will not be able to require their employees to be vaccinated,” Christian Porter, Attorney-General and Minister for Industrial Relations, said in a statement last week.

“As the Prime Minister has said many times, the government expects that the overwhelming majority of Australians will want to be vaccinated to protect themselves and their loved ones, and so they can get on with their lives without disruption.”

The guidance was developed after a series of roundtable meetings with employers and unions, ahead of Australia’s initial vaccine rollout of 142,000 doses, which began on Monday.

While there are currently no laws or public health orders in Australia that enable employers to enforce mandatory vaccinations upon their employees, there are limited circumstances where they might be considered.

These include whether a specific state or territory public health law requires the vaccination, or is otherwise included in an enterprise agreement or employment contract. Employer requests for their staff to be vaccinated will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, provided they don’t breach employee anti-discrimination protection laws, according to the FWO. 

Despite employers being unable to make vaccinations among staff, businesses will be able to refuse service to clients without proof they have been vaccinated, though doing so could open them up to those same anti-discrimination laws.

According to results of a recent poll commissioned by the Australian Department of Health, just 64 per cent of Australians will “definitely” opt in to the vaccine, while 27 per cent remain unsure and 9 per cent will “definitely not” get it. 

Employers are encouraged to implement reasonable COVID-safe control measures, such as adequate physical distancing, good hygiene, and increased cleaning and maintenance. 

“Your workers should not come to work if they are unwell — even if they are vaccinated,” updated SWA guidance suggests. 

View Fair Work’s guidance and Safe Work’s guidance.

Businesses can’t force staff to be vaccinated: Fair Work
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