Businesses across the country are calling for consistent national guidelines for mandatory vaccinations as more states are set to open their borders. Employers in South Australia, for example, which is due to open at the end of November, have expressed concern that they could face legal problems if they are unable to provide a safe workplace for all staff, but are also confused as to whether to make vaccination a condition of employment.
Litigation specialist Joshua Michaels, Managing Director of NDA Law, said that there are fundamental human rights laws for individuals, but these will not overrule broader government health directives that are currently in place.
“Mandated vaccinations are a clear directive that this is for the good of the community, it’s not about individuals,” Michaels said. “The problem is we aren’t clear about which industries and workplaces can impose mandatory vaccinations. Federal government makes workplace laws so they should really be in the front seat on this one, but that’s just not happening.
“The states are doing their own thing and that’s really confusing local businesses and undermining confidence – especially smaller SMEs in areas like retail, hospitality, construction, and childcare,” Michaels added. “They aren’t sure what’s around the corner. At the moment WA, NT, Victoria and NSW all have different regulations.
“Business owners just want to know what they should do to keep both staff and customers safe when the doors open up,” Michaels continued. “So, in my mind, it shouldn’t be regarded as discrimination if your boss asks you if you are vaccinated or not – especially if you work in an area that could have a directive imposed. Businesses have a right to put in place appropriate employment contracts.”
Stewart Bartlett, CEO of nanotech company Ferronova which has employees in both Melbourne and Adelaide, noted that many people are frustrated with the lack of clarity provided on vaccinations in the workplace and more discussion is needed about obligations to provide a safe workplace.
“We need vaccination regulations to be a national issue,” Bartlett said. “The piecemeal approach around the country just creates confusion. It would probably be easier if there was a central communication channel at a federal level for business about all these things.
“As an employer you have an obligation to provide a safe workplace for everyone. But in this case, it can be a legal conundrum for business. If someone is immune-compromised on your team, you need to make sure they can go to work with confidence too. Can you ask people to get the jab even if there is no mandate? There needs to be more talk about this aspect.
“Not every workplace will be the same,” Bartlett added. “It’s important to talk to people respectfully and to have discussions. Businesses could also make access easier by allowing people to take time off to visit a clinic. It would probably be a good idea to start talking openly now with team members about the issues facing all of us, this will make it easier down the track if many more industries are suddenly required to have vaccinated staff once states like South Australia open up.”