What you can and can’t ask your employees with regards to COVID-19 vaccination.
As an employer, talking to employees and encouraging them to get vaccinated against COVID-19 is very important for your workplace.
Not only does vaccination help make workplaces safer, but with the federal government indicating lockdowns will only end once COVID-19 vaccination targets are reached1, it’s the best way to help businesses back to normal. Even if your business hasn’t been directly affected by closures, it’s still important to think about employees who may be finding lockdown challenging for their productivity and morale.
KNOW YOUR OBLIGATIONS AND RIGHTS
Firstly, understand what you can and can’t ask your employees to do with regards to COVID-19 vaccination. The Fair Work Ombudsman recently updated its advice2, saying that employers can only require their staff to have a vaccination:
- if a specific law requires it (see here for details). They vary state-by-state but include quarantine, airport and health and aged care workers
- the requirement is permitted by an enterprise agreement or similar (see here)
- it would be lawful and reasonable for an employer to give their employees a direction to be vaccinated, which is assessed on a case-by-case basis (see here).
If you’re wondering how vaccination impacts your Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) obligations, look at Safe Work Australia. Research your own particular workplace, but Safe Work does say “most employers will not need to make vaccination mandatory to comply with the model WHS laws”.3
As an employer, also be aware the Office of the Information Commissioner says you can only require your employees to disclose their vaccination status in limited circumstances4.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration provides helpful guidance which explains how you can lawfully provide communications about COVID-19 vaccines to support the Government’s COVID-19 vaccine roll-out, including distribution of government material and how you may develop your own content.
LEAD BY EXAMPLE AND COMMUNICATE STRONGLY
A good first step is to ensure employees have up-to-date information on approved vaccinations, for example the information released by the Department of Health. See our other guides around where to get vaccinated and where to find resources in languages other than English.
The government has provided a ‘business kit’ which contains lots of materials for businesses to use for communication and encouragement – have a look at its ‘Arm Yourself’ campaign which includes assets for email signatures and web banners. They also have guides and templates for businesses needing help with internal communication announcements, newsletters and incentives around COVID-19 vaccination.
It’s also been found that by business leaders sharing their own vaccination status, it acts as a form of encouragement; analysis out of the US5 found that the most effective message employers could give is to ‘lead by example’.
Finally, if you encounter any hesitancy, it’s best not to argue or criticise these employees, experts say6 – instead, listen to their concerns and see what information you can provide to help counter misinformation.
The Fair Work Ombudsman says it’s not compulsory to give employees time off to get vaccinated against COVID-19, unless you’re one of the few employers that requires vaccination. However, they may use their paid sick leave allowance if they feel unwell afterwards.
That said, a number of larger Australian companies have already started offering special COVID-19 vaccination leave7 – so why not follow suit?
Remember, employees may experience a range of side effects following their COVID-19 vaccination. Additional time off to recover might be just what is needed to help employees over the line.
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied upon as health advice. Always seek the advice and guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. Courtesy Business Australia.