The national rollout of COVID-19 vaccines is a timely reminder for employers to review their workplace health and safety obligations.
In late February 2021, the Australian Government updated its guidance for employers and workers regarding the COVID-19 vaccine. Guidance is available at:
- Fair Work Ombudsman
- Work health and safety during COVID-19 - Guide to keeping your workplace safe, clean, healthy and informed on vaccinations (PDF, 0.37 MB)
- Work health and safety in the horticultural industry during COVID-19 - Guide to keeping your workplace safe, clean, healthy and informed on vaccinations (PDF, 0.37 MB)
According to the published material, there are currently no laws or public health orders in Australia that specifically enable employers to require their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The Australian Government's policy is that receiving a vaccination is voluntary. Employers should stay up-to-date with both federal and state public health orders in case the guidance changes.
The Federal Government has noted in its guidance material that there are, however, limited circumstances where an employer may require workers to be vaccinated. Employers who believe they may fit within these circumstances should read the published guidance material and consider obtaining their own legal advice before deciding whether to mandate the vaccine.
It is important to note that the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine does not remove employers’ workplace health and safety obligations to, as far as reasonably practicable, minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. Employers should continue to use measures such as physical distancing, good hygiene and regular cleaning.
In the event that a Queensland worker lodges a claim for an adverse reaction to the COVID-19 vaccination, WorkCover will determine the claim like any other claim, paying particular attention to whether the worker’s employment was a significant contributing factor to the injury (as per section 32 of the Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003).