Many of our clients have been asking us what others are doing regarding mandating Covid vaccinations in the workplace.
In some sectors its easy as the government has mandated it. In Victoria for example it will be mandatory to be vaccinated if you work in the construction industry or in child-care, or the schools’ system. It is already mandatory in most healthcare systems.
But what of private companies?
Last month a NSW Personal Injury Commission case confirmed that employees will be entitled to workers compensation if they contract Covid carrying out activities that have been induced or encouraged by their employer. This is an important precedent. It suggests that if someone catches Covid while in the workplace then it is an Occupational Health and Safety issue, i.e. Employers can be held liable.
So how do employers mitigate that risk?
Like any OH&S risk, employers must take steps to minimise the risk of transmission in the workplace, and one of the best measures is to ensure all employees and site visitors are vaccinated. Other measures such as social distancing, ventilation and masks are also important. Not taking these steps leaves one open for charges of negligence, and if death were to occur, even charges of industrial manslaughter (a charge that can now result in custodial sentences in many Australian states).
But vaccinated people can still catch the virus you say?
Yes they can, but deaths and ‘long-covid’ remain rare in the vaccinated. The vaccinated are also far less contagious than the unvaccinated.
But what if one of my employees refuses to be vaccinated?
The employment landscape has changed. Can the individual work from home? If so, it could be an option. If they must be in the office, you could potentially get them to sign a waiver that prevents them holding you accountable for their infection, should they acquire one. However, that waiver does not protect other employees who could potentially catch covid from the unvaccinated individual. And how would they feel having an unvaccinated person sitting at the next desk?
We have spoken to a number of employees in a variety of companies over the last few weeks. Most are vaccinated, or in the process of being vaccinated so mandating vaccinations poses no challenge for them, but all expressed concern that their colleagues might not be doing the right thing. None of them wanted to work with an unvaccinated colleague.
Further, many employees, particularly those in sales and service roles need to be able to travel and visit customers. Those customers will often require site visitors to be vaccinated. Even getting on a plane will require a current vaccination status. Therefore, the question must be asked, can an unvaccinated person satisfactorily carry out their roles and responsibilities if they are unvaccinated? Clearly in some cases the answer will be no.
We are aware of at least one national sales manager who refuses to be vaccinated. Even more oddly he works as a supplier into the healthcare sector. This means not only will he not be able to travel by air to be with his interstate team members, but he won’t be able to visit the company’s hospital customers when there anyway. Nor will he be able to travel internationally to company’s American head office as he has historically done annually. Clearly, for him to effectively do his job he must be vaccinated. If he refuses, he may have to forfeit his employment.
This predicament will become the norm. It is our belief that mandatory vaccination will be the norm in Australia for most workplaces, and it’s coming sooner than we think – possibly within 6 months. Our recruitment team are already being asked by our clients to check candidates’ vaccine status. That clearly implies that the unvaccinated will become unemployable by many companies.
In short, we believe requiring a vaccination in the workplace should be treated as a health and safety issue. In the same way that hard hats and other safety gear must be worn on a building site, so too will being vaccinated. The only difference is that this time around the safety gear must be “worn” by the office staff as well.
Mandatory workplace vaccination is coming. Get used to it!