The national rollout of COVID-19 vaccines is a timely reminder for employers to review their workplace health and safety obligations amidst these unprecedented times.
In late February 2021, the Australian Government updated its published guidance material for employers and workers regarding the COVID-19 vaccine. The guidance material can be found on both of the following websites:
According to the published material, there are currently no laws or public health orders in Australia that specifically enable employers to require their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Employers should stay up-to-date with both federal and state public health orders in case of any change. The Federal Government has noted in its guidance material that there are limited circumstances where an employer may require workers to have the vaccine. Employers who believe they may fit within one of the circumstances should read the published guidance material and consider obtaining their own legal advice before deciding whether to mandate the vaccine.
It is important to note that the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine does not remove employers’ workplace health and safety obligations to, as far as reasonably practicable, minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. Employers should continue to facilitate control measures such as physical distancing, good hygiene and regular cleaning.
In the event that a Queensland worker lodges a claim for an adverse reaction to the COVID-19 vaccination, WorkCover will determine the claim like any other claim, paying particular attention to whether the worker’s employment was a significant contributing factor to the injury (as per section 32 of the Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003).