COVID-19 Vaccination rollout information – Employers

Workplace health and safety laws require you to ensure the safety of your workers, yourself and any others in the workplace as much as you reasonably can. This includes minimising the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. 

This page provides information about your obligations under workplace health and safety laws and how these relate to COVID-19 vaccines. This information will assist you if you are unsure whether you need to require your workers to be vaccinated.

Remember, a vaccine is just one part of keeping the community safe and healthy. To meet your workplace health and safety duties, keep doing all the other things you have already put in place, including physical distancing, where possible, good hygiene and regular cleaning and maintenance, and making sure your workers know not to attend work if they are unwell. You must also comply with any public health orders or directions that apply to you and your workplace.

If you need information on COVID-19 and national workplace laws, go to the Fair Work Ombudsman website. The Fair Work Ombudsman has information on workplace rights and obligations during the impact of COVID-19, including on COVID-19 vaccinations for employers in the national industrial relations system.

If you employ workers under the WA state industrial relations system, there is information on employment issues relating to COVID-19 for private sector employers on the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety internet site. This site also contains a guide to who is covered in the state and national systems.

For more information and resources for small business, go to the COVID-19 coronavirus: Business tools and information website.

The national rollout of COVID-19 vaccines

 

The Australian Government is committed to providing all Australians with access to free, safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. While the aim is to have as many Australians as possible choose to be vaccinated, receiving a vaccination is voluntary. You can encourage your workers to get a COVID-19 vaccination, if they are able to.

The Australian Government is working together with state and territory governments to implement the arrangements under the Australian Vaccination and Treatment Strategy and the Rollout Strategy. Based on the national strategy, the WA COVID-19 vaccine program identifies priority groups for vaccination, including critical and high-risk workers. The rollout has started with older Australians and certain industries.

Some workers may have to get a vaccine under public health orders made by states and territories; for example, for people working in high-risk workplaces. If public health orders apply to your business or workers, you must follow them. You should stay up-to-date with the advice from the WA Department of Health.

From 10 May 2021, there will be a public health order requiring vaccination for hotel quarantine workers.

How COVID-19 vaccines work

The COVID-19 vaccines will help protect people by either preventing or reducing symptoms of COVID-19 in the person who has received the vaccine.

A vaccinated person may still unknowingly carry and spread the virus to others around them, including workers and others in their workplace. For this reason, you must continue to apply all reasonably practicable control measures to stop the spread of the virus.

See How do COVID-19 vaccines work? for more information.

Vaccination and my workplace health and safety duties

Workplace safety laws require you to ensure the safety of your workers, yourself and any others in the workplace as far as practicable. This includes the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. You may not be able to eliminate the risk of workers being exposed to COVID-19 while at work completely. However, you must do all that you reasonably can to minimise this risk and vaccination may be considered as one way to do so in the context of a range of COVID-19 control measures.

The WA Government has industry-specific COVID-19 safety plans and guidelines, which set out the control measures required to manage the risks of COVID-19 transmission, such as physical distancing, hygiene, training and education, compliance with legislation, and response to a COVID-19 incident. If your industry is not listed, it is recommended you use the general plan and guidelines.

Do I need to include mandatory vaccination as a control measure to comply with my workplace health and safety duties?

The Australian Government is committed to providing all Australians with access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, for those who wish to be vaccinated. While the Australian Government is not making vaccination mandatory, state and territory governments may do so for some workers (such as in high-risk workplaces or industries) through public health orders. In WA this applies to hotel quarantine workers from 10 May 2021.

There are limited circumstances where an employer may require their employees to be vaccinated. Whether an employer can require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 is highly fact dependent and takes into account the workplace and each employee’s particular circumstances. Furthermore, whether you should require your workers to be vaccinated will depend on the particular circumstances at the time you are undertaking your risk assessment.

When undertaking your risk assessment and developing your COVID-19 safety plan, some factors you should consider include:

  • Current public health orders or directions.
  • Is the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee recommending COVID-19 vaccinations for all workers in your industry?
  • Will your workers be exposed to the risk of infection as part of their work? For example, healthcare workers will be at higher risk of exposure when their work duties place them in contact with people who may be infected with COVID-19.
  • Do your workers work with people who would be vulnerable to severe disease if they contract COVID-19?
  • What is the likelihood that COVID-19 could spread in the workplace? For example, do work tasks require your workers to work in close proximity to each other and are there other ways to carry out these tasks?
  • Do your workers interact with large numbers of other people in the course of their work that could contribute to a ‘super-spreading’ event if your workers contract COVID-19?
  • What other control measures are available and in place in your workplace? Do those control measures already minimise the risk of infection, so far as is reasonably practicable?
  • Would a requirement to be vaccinated be unlawful in the circumstances? For example, would it discriminate against a class of employees?

You should review your risk assessment on an ongoing basis as circumstances can change quickly.

Consultation

If you are considering introducing a vaccination policy in your workplace, you must consult with your workers and any safety and health representatives (if your workplace has one). You must also ensure that any required vaccination program is lawful and reasonable for the specific circumstances of your workplace. You must give your workers an opportunity to share their ideas and express any concerns and take them into account.

Consultation must occur using the established consultation procedures at your workplace. Otherwise, consultation may occur broadly, for example, through staff messaging or more directly, through small group discussions, depending on the size and nature of your business.

Get advice

You should get advice if you are considering requiring your workers to be vaccinated, as it will not usually be reasonably practicable to require workers to be vaccinated unless a public health order or direction is in place for your type of business. There are many issues to think about - workplace relations, discrimination and privacy issues will also be relevant. The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner has information about your privacy obligations to your workers in relation to COVID-19 vaccination.

 If you need information on COVID-19 and national workplace laws, go to the Fair Work Ombudsman website. The Fair Work Ombudsman has information on workplace rights and obligations during the impact of COVID-19, including on COVID-19 vaccinations for employers in the national industrial relations system.

For employers under the WA state industrial relations system, there is information on employment issues relating to COVID-19 for public sector employers and private sector employers on the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety internet site. This site also contains a guide to who is covered in the state and national systems.

Workers, customers and vaccinations

Can I require customers and visitors to prove they have been vaccinated before entering my workplace?

Workplace health and safety laws currently do not require you to ask customers and visitors for proof of vaccination. If you are considering requiring this as a condition of entry to your premises, before you take action to impose this kind of requirement, you should seek advice, as there may be privacy and discrimination issues that apply. 

For more information on privacy and COVID-19 vaccinations, go to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner website. Anti-discrimination laws may also apply. See the WA Equal Opportunity Commission and the Australian Human Rights Commission for information on discrimination.

Can my workers refuse to come to work because another worker is not vaccinated?

Under workplace health and safety laws, a worker can only cease or refuse to carry out work if they have a reasonable concern that to carry out the work would expose them to a serious risk to their health or safety from an immediate or imminent exposure to a hazard. In most circumstances, a worker will not be able to rely on workplace health and safety laws to cease work simply because another worker at the workplace is not vaccinated; however, this will depend on the circumstances.

You should talk to your workers to understand their concerns and assure them that you are continuing to implement all other control measures, which are known to reduce the spread of the virus in the workplace, such as physical distancing, good hygiene and increased cleaning. These measures must remain in place, even if your workers are vaccinated.

For vulnerable workers, you should continue to implement other working arrangements where you reasonably can.

Some of my workers cannot be vaccinated because of medical conditions. How do I protect my unvaccinated workers from COVID-19?

A safe and effective COVID-19 vaccination is only one part of keeping the community safe. You must continue to implement all reasonably practicable control measures in your workplace, such as physical distancing, good hygiene and regular cleaning and maintenance. Your workers should not come to work if they are unwell – even if they are vaccinated. For more information on these measures, go to the WA Government COVID-19 website.

You should also conduct a risk assessment to determine whether particular working arrangements should be put in place for workers who cannot be vaccinated. You should take into account the worker’s specific characteristics, the nature of your workplace and the type of work the worker performs.

Will I be held liable under workplace health and safety laws if I do not make my workers get vaccinated and one of them gets COVID-19?

There is currently insufficient evidence about the impact of COVID-19 vaccines on transmission of the virus which means that it may be possible for a worker to get COVID-19 even if they are vaccinated. The circumstances in which an employer may require their employees to be vaccinated are limited. Whether an employer can require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 depends on the individual circumstances of the workplace and each employee. It is therefore unlikely that you would breach workplace health and safety laws simply because you do not require your workers to be vaccinated.

However, if a public health order or direction for vaccination is in place for your workplace, penalties will be in place under that law.

More information on compliance and enforcement of these laws during the pandemic is available on the Statement of Regulatory Intent page. However, your workers should not come to work if they are unwell – even if they are vaccinated. 

What about my obligations under workers’ compensation laws?

Under workers’ compensation laws, workers may be entitled to workers’ compensation if they contract COVID-19 while at work. More information on workers’ compensation and COVID-19 is available at WorkCover.

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