A new industrial relations issue is on the horizon as employers begin to ask whether they can introduce a ‘no jab, no job’ policy for staff who refuse a COVID-19 vaccine.
- Employers could face legal action if they dismiss a staff member for being unvaccinated
- The Business Council of Australia says making vaccinations compulsory for some sectors makes sense
- Unions say medical experts should decide whether vaccines are compulsory, not employers
As the vaccination program progresses, and Australia moves from an elimination to a suppression strategy, the issue of vaccinations in the workplace is likely to heat up.
It comes as aged care workers may soon face compulsory jabs after the federal and state governments reached an in-principle agreement on the issue, pending further advice from medical experts.
Unvaccinated aged care workers at public facilities in Victoria are already being stood down, and health care workers in that state cannot work in some hospital settings unless inoculated.
New South Wales has similar rules for its health care workers regarding the flu vaccine.
Can your boss sack if you refuse to get the jab?
The Fair Work Commission has recently upheld the sacking of two workers in aged care and child care who refused a flu vaccine.
But that does not necessarily mean all bosses can start sacking staff who refuse vaccinations.
“We can not extrapolate from those decisions,” legal academic Professor Andrew Stewart from the University of Adelaide told ABC News.
Employers would risk falling foul of unfair dismissal and anti-discrimination laws.
“At the moment, an employer can give lawful and reasonable directions to an employee to do the job, but the question is, is it lawful and reasonable for them to get a COVID-19 jab?” questioned Professor Stewart.
“Outside of Victoria at the moment, probably not, but when we move to a suppression phase, that could change.”
Mr Stewart said, as well as issuing a public health order, states had the power to change work health and safety laws.
However, he said a national approach is preferable.
“It requires very clear advice from the Commonwealth, because at the moment every employer and their legal advisers are forced to figure this out for themselves.”
Support growing for jabs in other sectors
Sandy Chong from the Australian Hairdressing Council said she would like to have the option of making COVID-19 vaccinations compulsory for her staff who do not have a health reason to refuse.
Ms Chong said social distancing was impossible in hairdressing salons.
“I am asthmatic and I am vulnerable if someone is not vaccinated,” she argued.
“We need to think of the health of business owners, staff and our customers — many are vulnerable, being elderly or immunocompromised.”
However, Ms Chong said there was a range of views on the issue among her members across the country.
‘Common sense’ in some sectors
Business Council of Australia CEO Jennifer Westacott has thrown her support behind compulsory vaccinations for some workers, such as those in aged care.
“I know that the health advice is that mandatory vaccines aren’t necessary,” she told RN Breakfast.
“Because we do need to make sure that we go back to basics on this,”
Qantas wants international travellers to be vaccinated but has not said if it would make the jabs compulsory for staff.
Wesfarmers has announced it will give staff three hours of leave to get vaccinated.
Unions want health experts to make the call
ACTU secretary Sally McManus said vaccination mandates should be made by medical experts, not by individual employers.
“The same process should apply with COVID-19.”
Alexi Boyd from the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia said the organisation had not yet discussed the issue with its members.
Personally, Ms Boyd said she leaned more towards encouraging than mandating vaccines.
“We have enough hats to wear, we don’t have to policeman’s hat as well,” she said.
Legal expert Professor Stewart said it is an issue that is unlikely to go away.
“It’s a complete mess, and will end up being a lawyers’ picnic.”