THE Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry have released a guide to help workplaces and employees navigate the COVID-19 vaccine rollout and mandatory requirements in what is an everchanging environment.
The Mandating COVID-19 Vaccinations in the Workplace – Employer Guide aims to help businesses understand how to communicate about the vaccine and what your obligations are when it comes to vaccinations for your staff, based on employment law and work health and safety.
There are some key things that employers can do right now that will ensure they keep themselves, employees, and other stakeholders of the business safe.
Communicate and support
The most important thing you can do as an employer is to communicate and be transparent with employees about the COVID-19 vaccines.
Employers can educate employees on the COVID-19 vaccine by providing them with reliable and accurate information about the vaccine, run awareness campaigns, share a frequently asked questions document about the vaccine, and urge staff to only trust reliable sources when reading information about the vaccine.
There are some legal concerns that employers must consider when communicating about the COVID-19 vaccine.
The Therapeutic Good Administration (TGA) has given legal permission that allows businesses to communicate about vaccines if the communication is consistent with current Commonwealth health messaging regarding the national COVID-19 vaccines program, including information found on the Department of Health’s website.
Currently all authorised workers and providers must have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by October 22, to continue working onsite and to travel across Victoria for work. For more information, visit www.dhhs.vic.gov.au/victorias-restriction-levels-covid-19.
If a business is not on the authorised workers and providers list and they choose to introduce a vaccination policy, they must consult with their employees and any safety and health representatives. Any vaccination program must also be lawful and reasonable for the specific circumstances of a workplace.
Employers who have mandated vaccinations in the workplace are then legally able to ask an employee of their vaccination status. Employers who have mandated the vaccine under lawful and reasonable direction are then able to ask for proof that the vaccination has been received to ensure compliance of the direction.
For businesses who have not mandated the vaccine, there is no law against asking whether their employees have been vaccinated, but they must comply with privacy obligation and how they collect the information, discussed in more detail below.
Vaccination and employee privacy is governed by the Privacy Act. Under the act, employers can ask their employees if they have received the COVID-19 vaccine, and should they disclose the information, the collection, use and disclosure information must be handled in accordance with the Privacy Act.
Other preventative measures
The COVID-19 vaccine is considered one possible ‘control measure’ for minimising the spread of the virus. The vaccine alone is not considered a sufficient preventative measure and should always be paired with other control measures.
These include practicing social distancing, physically isolating employees by allowing them to work from home when possible, cleaning regularly, practicing good hygiene, wearing a facemask, and ensuring employees who feel unwell do not come into work, and get a COVID-19 test as soon as possible.