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Employers and employees are looking for clarity on their workplace rights and obligations as COVID-19 (coronavirus) vaccines become available in Australia.

In the current circumstances, the overwhelming majority of employers should assume that they can’t require their employees to be vaccinated against coronavirus.

While the Australian Government’s policy is that receiving a vaccination is voluntary, it aims to have as many Australians vaccinated as possible.

There are limited circumstances where an employer may require their employees to be vaccinated. Whether an employer can require their employees to be vaccinated against coronavirus is highly fact dependent, taking account of the workplace and each employee’s circumstances. Relevant factors an employer should consider include:

  • whether a specific law (such as a state or territory public health law) requires an employee to be vaccinated
  • whether an enterprise agreement, other registered agreement or employment contract includes a provision about requiring vaccinations
  • if no law, agreement or employment contract applies that requires vaccination, whether it would be lawful and reasonable for an employer to give their employees a direction to be vaccinated (which is assessed on a case by case basis).

Further considerations may include whether employees have a legitimate reason for not being vaccinated (for example, a medical reason), and how protections for employees under anti-discrimination laws may apply.

Employers should get their own legal advice if:

  • they’re considering making coronavirus vaccinations mandatory in their workplace, or
  • they operate in a coronavirus high-risk environment (for example, health care or meat processing).

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