You can not turn on the tv, radio, open the internet or read the paper (does anyone still read the paper?) without seeing, hearing or reading about mandatory vaccinations. It’s an emotive topic for some, practical and reasonable for others but the essence of it is that vaccinations are a key element to our country reopening.
As HR consultants to a wide range of industries, we are fielding a range of questions about mandatory vaccinations so we are going to cover off the top 5 questions we are being asked in the hope that it helps resolve questions you may be struggling with in your business.
1. We have an employee who does not want to be vaccinated. What do we do?
First things first, in various states particular industries now have mandated vaccination as directed by Chief Health Officer orders. Within these nominated industries, the directions apply to all employees who are required to leave their home to perform any elements of their job.
That can allow for a little flexibility if the work your employee engages in can be completed from home entirely as they may be able to remain unvaccinated. However, they will not be able to attend work premises for meetings, social get togethers, visit client sites, Christmas parties, or anything else related to the business. If this suits both you and your employee then it’s a decision for you as a business owner to make; both about the realistic nature of a 100% work from home employee, consider any productivity concerns as well as the impact on your company culture and team connection.
ALL employees who need to leave their place of residence to complete any of their work in an industry that is covered by the vaccination mandate, MUST be vaccinated or be in breach of the law.
Exceptions to the above in relation to those who are required to attend work outside the home are as follows:
2. As an employer, how do we tell our employees to be vaccinated? Isn’t it a personal choice?
Let’s be clear, you are NOT telling your employees to get vaccinated. You are advising them of a legally required condition of employment due to a Public Health Order, and it is ultimately up to the individual to determine their own path when it comes to vaccination. You should encourage your employee to seek medical advice if they are uncertain about getting vaccinated.
3. I’ve let my team know they must be vaccinated, and a couple have come back and are refusing to
either vaccinate or advise their vaccination status. They cannot work from home due to the nature
of the work – what happens now?
We’ll break this one down a little as it two separate issues…
You have a legal obligation, as per the public health orders, to request vaccination status and you are obliged to maintain an up-to-date record by law if you operate within a mandated industry. Your employees are obliged to provide true and correct information. If they refuse to provide information regarding their vaccination status, they are to be treated as unvaccinated - pure and simple.
Your employees have the right to choose not to be vaccinated but this means they will not be able to fulfil the inherent requirements of the job. Therefore, if you determine that there is no work they can complete from home you can consider the following options:
For more detail around managing vaccination refusal you can click here.
4. My employee claims it is a breach of their privacy to provide vaccination information. Is it?
The simple and correct answer is no, it is not a breach of privacy to request and require the vaccination status of your employees. In terms of mandated industries, you have a direction by law to collect and record the vaccination status of all employees.
Overlaying this, employers have an obligation to protect employees and to provide a safe work environment. If you do not have information as to who is and isn’t vaccinated, you may be jeopordising the health of your team which in turn may have some serious legal implications for you.
Let me underscore this – it is not a breach of privacy to ask for the vaccination status of an employee. There are exemptions under the Privacy Act which include where failing to disclose the information could lead to serious injury or death.
5. My employee told me she had been vaccinated. Is that enough for the purposes of the vaccination
record I need to keep?
This may vary from state to state but in Victoria, vaccination information may be recorded in a variety of documents, such as a letter from a doctor, a certificate of immunisation, an immunisation history statement obtained from the Australian Immunisation Register which can be downloaded from a Medicare account via MyGov or via the Services Victoria App. Verbal advice from the employee is not enough and does not meet your obligations under the Public Health Order.
We recommend keeping a register of all employees and their vaccination status, located only where duly authorised people can access, and placing a copy of the vaccination document on each employee’s file.
6. Some clients are asking about the vaccination status of my employees who need to attend to
work at the client’s worksites/place of business. Am I allowed to release such personal information?
It really will depend on why they are asking. They may have made a business decision that all visitors to their sites must be vaccinated to protect their employees and their business, so it is a reasonable question. Any business has the right to only allow permitted vaccinated people onto their premises and if this is a position a business has taken, they have the right to request the information. This is not grounds for discrimination and only providing services or allowing entry to premises to those who are vaccinated is not a breach of human rights.
We recommend that you provide the information they have requested so that they can permit entry to your employees. We also recommend that you advise your employees that you will be doing this where it is requested, so that they have knowledge of their information being shared.
7. Should my team know about this stuff from the news or do I need to get something out to them?
Clear communication is one of our favourite things at HR Staff n’ Stuff so yes, you absolutely need to advise your team formally as to what is happening and what will be required of them, the deadlines that have been set based on your industry and any other elements that your business will be adhering to that relate to the public health orders as per the Chief Health Officer. We recommend you get an email or letter out to your team as a matter of urgency if you haven’t already done so.
The directions around mandatory vaccinations are constantly evolving as supply issues are resolved and we hit various markers in the National Plan as well as having differing requirements across our states and territories. If you are at all unsure as to how you are required to operate, please contact the HR Staff n’ Stuff team for support.
The HR Staff n' Stuff team all contribute to our blogs. Enjoy the read!