COVID-19 Vaccination rollout information – Workers
Workplace health and safety laws require your employer to ensure your safety and the safety of any others in the workplace as much as they reasonably can. This includes minimising the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace.
A safe and effective vaccine is just one part of keeping the community safe and healthy. To meet their workplace health and safety duties, your employer must keep doing all the other things they have put in place to stop the spread of the virus, including physical distancing, good hygiene and regular cleaning and maintenance, and making sure you and your co-workers know not to attend work if you are unwell. Your employer must also comply with any public health orders that require vaccinations in specific industries.
This page provides information on your rights and obligations under workplace health and safety laws in relation to the COVID-19 vaccines. 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 workers employed in the national industrial relations system.
If you are employed under the WA state industrial relations system, there is information on employment issues relating to COVID-19 for public sector employees and private sector employees 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.
The national rollout of the 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 should get a COVID-19 vaccine if you can.
The Australian Government is working together with state and territory governments to implement the arrangements under the Australian Vaccination 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.
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. Because of this, your employer 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.
Can my employer require me to be vaccinated against COVID-19 under workplace health and safety laws?
Some workers may have to get a vaccine under public health orders or directions made by states and territories; for example, for people working in high-risk workplaces. If your employer does require you to be vaccinated because of the industry you work in or the type of work that you do, they should provide you with relevant information and materials so that you can make an informed decision about vaccination and you should talk to your treating medical practitioner if you have any concerns. Currently in Western Australia this only applies to hotel quarantine workers (from 10 May 2021).
For other workers, your employer will not be able to require you to be vaccinated under work health and safety laws. You cannot be forced to get a vaccination or undergo any medical procedure against your will. However, there may be some circumstances where an employer may require their employees to be vaccinated, but 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.
You should also stay up-to-date with the advice from the WA Department of Health.
If you are a worker who cannot be vaccinated, and you work at a workplace or undertake tasks that require vaccination, you should talk to your employer, safety and health representative or worker representative about your options. For information about your workplace rights, go to the Fair Work Ombudsman website. For information on employment issues relating to COVID-19 under the WA state industrial relations system, public sector employees and private sector employees can contact DMIRS.
Can I be dismissed from my job or penalised if I decide not to be vaccinated?
Generally, employers should not require employees to be vaccinated.
However, there are limited instances where an employer may require an employee to be vaccinated (e.g. as a result of a current public health order). These are dependent upon whether a law, agreement or employment contract is in place that stipulates it is lawful and reasonable for an employer to direct an employee to be vaccinated.
While it may not be mandatory to be vaccinated in your workplace, the Australian Government is encouraging everyone who can to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
If you need information on COVID-19 and Australian 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. If you work under the WA state industrial relations system, there is information on employment issues relating to COVID-19 for public sector employees and private sector employees on the DMIRS website.
Does my employer have to talk to me before requiring vaccinations at my workplace?
There are limited circumstances where it may be lawful and reasonable for an employer to require mandatory vaccination programs. If your employer is considering introducing a vaccination policy in your workplace, they must consult with you and your safety and health representative, if your workplace has one, before taking any action. Your employer must give you an opportunity to share your ideas and express any concerns and take them into account. You should let them know if there is a reason why you cannot be vaccinated.
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 organisation.
What do I do if I have concerns about the COVID-19 vaccines?
The Australian Government is committed to ensuring Australians have access to safe and effective vaccines. Any COVID-19 vaccine can only be used in Australia if the Therapeutic Goods Administration has approved it through its rigorous approvals process. The Australian Government Department of Health website has information on how the vaccine works and the testing and approvals process for its use.
If you still have concerns about receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, you should talk to your treating medical practitioner.
I am pregnant – can I be vaccinated?
A COVID-19 vaccination decision guide for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or planning pregnancy has been published on the Australian Government Department of Health website.
I will not be able to be vaccinated because of a medical condition. What do I do?
A safe and effective COVID-19 vaccination is only one part of keeping the Australian community safe. Your employer must continue to implement all reasonably practicable control measures in your workplace, such as physical distancing, good hygiene and increased cleaning and maintenance, and your co-workers should not come to work if they are unwell – even if they have been vaccinated.
Your employer must also consider whether because of your circumstances, particular working arrangements need to be put in place for you. They should take into account your specific characteristics, the nature of your workplace and the type of work you do. The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee has put out advice about vulnerable workers.
I am vaccinated. Do I still have to take other precautions such as physical distancing and frequently washing my hands?
Yes. A safe and effective vaccine is only be one part of keeping the community safe and healthy. It is important that you continue to take the following steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19:
- follow the state public health orders and directions
- don’t attend work when you are unwell, have COVID-19 symptoms or have been told to stay at home by health officials (e.g. you are required to quarantine or have been tested for COVID-19 and are waiting for your results)
- do all you reasonably can to work safely, including observing controls your employer has put in place for COVID-19, such as physical distancing and cleaning processes and procedures
- follow training and instructions your employer has provided to you (e.g. about how to wash hands thoroughly)
- ask if you’re not sure how to safely perform the work
- when required, use personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves and masks in the way you were trained and instructed to use it
- report any unsafe situations (e.g. a lack of soap in the bathroom) to your supervisor or to your health and safety representative, if your workplace has one.
Your employer is required to maintain appropriate control measures even after the vaccine rollout has begun.
Can my employer ask me for proof that I am vaccinated?
The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) states that, in regard to COVID-19 vaccination status, your employer “must only collect vaccination status information if the employee consents and the collection is reasonably necessary for your functions and activities, unless an exception applies”. While the Australian Government is not making vaccination mandatory, states and territories may do so for some industries or workers through public health orders or directions. Under such circumstances it may be reasonable for your employer to ask for proof of vaccination. The OAIC sets out the parameters around what information can be collected, handled and disclosed.
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 workers employed in the national industrial relations system.
If you are employed under the WA state industrial relations system, public sector employees and private sector employees can contact DMIRS for information on employment issues relating to COVID-19. This site also contains a guide to who is covered in the state and national systems.
Am I entitled to workers’ compensation if I get COVID-19?
Under workers’ compensation laws you may be entitled to workers’ compensation if you contract COVID-19 while at work, regardless of how you contracted it. More information on workers’ compensation and COVID-19 is available at WorkCover.
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