Employers are required to minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace as part of workplace health and safety laws. There are a range of ways in which an employer can do this, including social distancing, improved hygiene measures, and encouraging employees to have the COVID-19 vaccine.
However, whether an employer can force their employees to have a COVID-19 vaccine depends on whether it would be a lawful and reasonable direction. Whether a direction to be vaccinated is lawful and reasonable will depend on a range of factors, such as whether:
the employees have close and regular contact with members of the public;
the employees have close contact with people who are particularly vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19 (such as workers in the health sector or an aged care facility);
the direction complies with any employment contract, award or agreement and any State or Commonwealth legislation;
the direction amounts to discrimination under anti-discrimination laws; and
an employee has a genuine reason for not being vaccinated (such as a medical condition).
If an employee refuses to be vaccinated following a lawful and reasonable direction by the employer, the employer should discuss the issue with the employee. There may be other ways to minimise the spread of COVID-19 without requiring the employee to be vaccinated, such as reassigning the employee to a different role within the business. However, in some situations, the employer may be able to take disciplinary action, including termination of employment. Each case will depend on its own facts and circumstances.
If you need advice on how to manage COVID-19 procedures in the workplace, please contact Petherick Cottrell Lawyers at email@example.com or (08) 9535 4604.