The short answer to this question is that it is yet to be tested under the relevant legislation.
The situation at present is this: food giant SPC has come out as the first business to mandate vaccinations for its workforce, which has seen pushback from both union bodies and those who are against mandatory vaccinations. QANTAS recently followed suit to require all front-line staff be vaccinated.
The federal government has refused to mandate vaccines for workplaces, meaning the issue of vaccinating the workforce, or not, comes under each state’s relevant workplace health and safety legislation. While the legislation varies from state to state, the overarching requirement from the laws is that workplaces are required to take reasonable and practicable steps to ensure the health and safety of employees.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, who spoke with Safe Work Australia:
“Safe Work currently advises that requiring workers to be vaccinated is generally not a reasonable requirement, but a spokeswoman said it was working with other agencies to ensure its advice was consistent and would update it as necessary.”
While the workplace regulator is yet to firm that advice, many businesses are seeking guidance from the federal government as to what they can and cannot do.
As the situation stands, employers should follow the health advice and public health orders in each state as they apply to businesses and employees. There are specifics for certain sectors, including health and aged care, which must be considered for those industries. Outside of that, we recommend reaching out to your trusted employment lawyer to determine the litigation liability attached to the action.
As of 17 August, Federal Industrial Relations Minister, Michaelia Cash, has formally requested a meeting between employer associations and unions regarding vaccines in the workplace, which will also be attended by the Fair Work Ombudsman, Australian Information and Privacy Commissioner and chief executive of Safe Work Australia. We will provide further information as it comes to hand.
As the situation is ever-changing, we recommend speaking with an Eighteen33 team member for any clarification on any of the above information or visiting the website of your state’s worker’s compensation agency.
For further information, Sparke Helmore, specialists in Workplace Law have released a podcast that covers off some of the legislative-based challenges.