Refusing the vaccine could get you fired
The Australian government has continually assured Australians the COVID-19 vaccine won't be mandatory but workplaces across the country could still require their employees to get the jab, with those who refuse possibly risking their jobs.
The first vaccines are set to be rolled out at the end of February, with the government aiming to have the majority of the population vaccinated by the end of October.
Vaccinating against COVID-19 is the easiest way for Australians to get their normal lives back, but millions are hesitant to get the jab.
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NB Lawyers employment law expert, Jonathan Mamaril, told news.com.au many industries will have the power to require employers to be vaccinated against coronavirus, so long as it is a "reasonable and lawful direction".
"In settings like aged care, child care, health care, it is easy for them to establish a vaccine requirement because they are working closely with vulnerable groups," he said.
Mr Mamaril said employers also have workplace health and safety laws to consider. These laws state an employer must make a reasonable effort to make the workplace safe for its employees.
Employees also have that same obligations to their colleagues, clients and customers, making it relatively easy for employers, particularly those in client facing industries, to establish a vaccine requirement.
There could also be contractual obligations where employees are required to go to other worksites or settings as part of their job where the vaccine could be necessary.
"Where it gets a bit hairy is if the employee has a political, social, religious or ethical objection to getting the vaccine. It will then go back to: Is it an inherent requirement for that position?" Mr Mamaril said.
"What a lot of people rely upon is discrimination laws. They are going to say, 'You are forcing me to take this vaccine and I have ideals that object to that.'"
An employer would then be required to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate that employee's objection.
Mr Mamaril said if the employer can show they have made an effort to make these adjustments but find the employee is unable to perform their role without a vaccine then they can move towards termination.
"If someone objects on religious, political or social grounds if an employer has taken some steps to accommodate that employee, that will normally be enough to allow a termination," he said.
One of the groups that may be able to object to the vaccine are employees who work completely from home and don't come into an office or see clients.
"For remote workers who don't come into the office at all, it may be reasonable for them to say 'I reject on religious grounds' and there may be no impact on the company," Mr Mamaril said.
"But what if that employee works 80 per cent from home and the other 20 per cent goes to see clients or is in the office? They are in a position to potentially endanger people. The issue is then going to be what happens if they do spread the virus."
Mr Mamaril said the situation also changes slightly if someone objects to the vaccine on medical grounds.
"There is going to be a group of people that could be able to establish on medical grounds that they can't take the vaccine. For them to continue to work, employers will then have to consider moving them to different areas," he said.
"They have to look at other areas before termination."
However, Mr Mamaril urged employers against seeing this as a "blank cheque" to remove employees.
"There will be certain industries, like those dealing with frail clients, children or sick people, where it will be relatively straight forward," he said.
"It could be different in other areas."
The COVID-19 vaccine rollout is set to start at the end of February and will be administered in five stages.
The first Aussies to receive the COVID-19 jab will be frontline healthcare workers, quarantine and border workers, aged care and disability care staff and aged care and disability care residents.
This is Phase 1a of the rollout and will include about 678,000 people.
The next step, Phase 1b, will include people aged 70 and over, other healthcare workers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 55 and over, people with a disability or underlying medical condition and critical and high-risk workers, such as emergency services, defence personnel and meat processing staff.
This phase will cover an estimated 6.1 million people.
Next up in Phase 2a, will be 50-69 year olds, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 18-24 and other critical and high risk workers. About 6.5 million people are expected to be vaccinated in this phase.
It will probably be at least mid-year before the broader population will have access to the vaccine.
Phase 2b will include the rest of the population aged 16 and over, with the vaccine to be offered to 6.6 million Australians.
The final part of the rollout, Phase 3, will include people under the age of 16 who didn't meet the criteria for the other sections.
This phase will only be commenced if recommended by health authorities.
Originally published as Refusing the vaccine could get you fired