|Have you reviewed your COVID Safe Policy recently? If not, now would be a good time to do so to ensure that it is fit for purpose for your organisation.|
The health risk to your employees, customers, clients, volunteers, and contractors should be assessed to determine if there is still a need to maintain the same requirements for mandatory vaccinations, wearing of face masks, social distancing, working from home, and any other COVID Safe measures.
As an employer, you have a duty under WHS laws to eliminate, or if that is not reasonably practicable, minimise the risks of COVID-19 in the workplace so far as is reasonably practicable.
Employers also have a duty to consult employees regarding COVID-19 risks and how these risks are to be managed. This includes the introduction of workplace policies relating to vaccination and other COVID Safe measures.
This means employees must be consulted when organisations are:
– assessing the risk COVID-19 presents to the health and safety of employees and others in the workplace
– deciding on control measures to eliminate or minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19
– deciding on the adequacy of facilities for the welfare of employees (for example hand washing facilities), and
– proposing other changes to the workplace as a result of COVID-19 which may affect health and safety
Employees views must genuinely be taken into account when making decisions and they must be informed about consultation outcomes and decisions about health and safety.
Can an employer request an employee to be vaccinated?
Employers can only request their employees to be vaccinated where:
– a specific law (such as a state or territory public health order or enforceable government direction) requires it
– the requirement is permitted by an enterprise agreement, other registered agreement or employment contract, or
– they give their employees a lawful and reasonable direction to be vaccinated
In some cases, public health orders may specify that certain employees are required to be vaccinated. If a public health order does not apply, a decision to direct employees to be vaccinated must be made carefully and evaluated on a case-by-case basis, subject to legal advice and in consultation with employees and where they choose, their representatives.
Therefore, any decision to require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 must be tailored to the employees subject to the decision, the applicable work settings, risk analysis, and any other relevant factors including the services being provided.
Can employees be directed to return to the office to work?
Many employers have now adopted a hybrid workplace that allows employees to work from home and the office depending on the organisation’s operational requirements.
You can issue a reasonable and lawful direction for employees to return to work from the office or a designated workplace as a requirement of employment in accordance with the organisation’s Work From Home Policy and the employee’s employment contract.
It is best practice to explain the operational reasons why this decision has been taken and consult with employees about making this decision.
What if there is another public health emergency?
If there is another public health emergency similar to the COVID-19 pandemic, you will need to again review, assess and amend your policy subject to public health orders and advice from the Commonwealth and State Governments.
Below you will find some helpful resources and links about COVID-19 vaccination policies:
COVID-19 Information for workplaces | Safe Work Australia (swa.gov.au)
COVID-19 vaccinations – Fair Work Ombudsman
COVID-19 and workplace laws – Fair Work Ombudsman
Circular 2021/09: COVID-19 vaccination policies in Australian Government workplaces | Australian Public Service Commission (apsc.gov.au)
National COVID-19 safe workplace principles | Safe Work Australia (swa.gov.au)
COVID-19 vaccinations and federal discrimination law | Australian Human Rights Commission
If you have any questions regarding the above information, please contact our Workplace Relations team on 1800 331 915.