On 19 February 2021, the Federal Industrial Relations Minister, Christian Porter, announced the release of new guidance material for employers in navigating the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. In doing so, Mr Porter reinforced the Federal Government’s broader vaccine policy, which is that vaccination should be voluntary.
The latest guidance on this topic is available from the Fair Work Ombudsman and Safe Work Australia (Guidance Material) and, according to that Guidance Material, most employers will not be able to require their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. This is because there are ‘currently no laws or public health orders in Australia that specifically enable employers to require their employees to be vaccinated against coronavirus’.
Despite this, there may be limited circumstances where an employer may require their employees to be vaccinated. These are highly fact dependent and will need to be assessed on a case by case basis, taking account of the particular workplace and each employee’s individual circumstances. The Safe Work Australia Guidance Material provides industry specific information.
The Guidance Material also makes it clear that, in most circumstances, employees will not be permitted to avoid attending work on the basis that someone at the workplace is not vaccinated.