COVID-19 continues to present significant challenges for business and the community, and governments have made it clear that being vaccinated is the best way for Australians to return to a normal way of life. Businesses are wondering how to manage vaccinations in the workplace, and whether the vaccine should be mandatory for their workers.
The Victorian Government has recently mandated that specified workers in Melbourne and Regional Victoria need to have a first COVID-19 vaccine by 15 October 2021 and second dose by 26 November 2021 in order to work outside their home.
Public Health Order
The Victorian Government’s COVID-19 Mandatory Vaccination (Workers) Directions (Directions) require that workers in Melbourne and Regional Victoria in a category specified on the Worker List in Schedule 1 of the Directions must:
- have had their first COVID-19 vaccine dose by 15 October 2021, or have evidence verifying a booking for a dose no later than 22 October 2021; and
- have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine by 26 November 2021 in order to work on site.
An exception applies where a worker has certification from a medical practitioner that the worker is unable, due to a medical contraindication or an acute medical illness (including COVID-19) to receive a dose or a further dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
There are 34 different types of workers specified and defined in Schedule 1 of the Directions.
The Directions make it clear that an employer must not allow an unvaccinated worker to work outside their home, unless an exception applies to the worker.
If a worker is unvaccinated and an exception does not apply to them, how are they paid?
An employee might refuse to be vaccinated even if they are required to under the Directions. In these situations, an employer should ask the employee to explain their reasons for refusing the vaccination.
If the employee does not have a medical exception, the employer should consider where there are any other options available instead of vaccination. Temporary alternative work arrangements could be introduced, such as asking the employee to perform different duties or to work from home if the employee performs work that can be completed at home.
It is important that employees recognise that employers have no option but to comply with the Victorian Government’s public health direction. If an unvaccinated employee arrives at work, the employer needs to send the employee home. To be entitled to payment an employee needs to be ‘ready, willing and able’ to work, and unvaccinated employees covered by the public health direction are not able to work outside their home. In these circumstances, if the employee’s job cannot be done from home, the employee would not be entitled to payment. Unvaccinated employees can reach agreement with their employer to take accrued annual leave or long service leave.
Fair Work Ombudsman advice
The Fair Work Ombudsman have some general guidance material available on their website.