Employers will be allowed to require workers to vaccinate against coronavirus, a workplace law expert says, despite assurances from the federal government the jab will be voluntary.
As the vaccine’s national rollout approaches, there are calls for greater clarity around the authority of businesses and rights of their employees.
It comes after a Brisbane care worker who was terminated for refusing a flu jab launched an unfair dismissal case against her former employer.
Zana Bytheway, executive director of employment rights legal centre JobWatch, said employers had a responsibility to provide a safe work environment.
As part of fulfilling that obligation, they may require that workers are vaccinated at the company’s expense.
“Under occupational health and safety law, an employer is required to do whatever is reasonable and practicable to ensure workplace health and safety,” she said.
“Given the ongoing global pandemic, this can reasonably include requiring employees to wear masks, do COVID-19 tests and receive vaccinations once they are available.”
Disability discrimination law requires that employers make reasonable adjustments for employees to do their job, and medical exemptions to vaccine rules may apply in some cases.
But Ms Bytheway said the situation was complicated by federal and state laws and directives, and the balance of risk to the community against impact on individuals.
“We’ve seen instances of this already, where aged care workers in Victoria have been required to wear fitted face masks through government orders – individual medical exemptions did not apply in these circumstances because of the high-risk nature of their work,” she said.
“I think employers, like the entire community, are looking to the government to provide us with some clear guidance.”
Although the federal government’s policy is that the coronavirus vaccine is voluntary, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has also acknowledged that some people may be required to get one.
Earlier this week, the Fair Work Commission ruled that care worker Maria Corazon Glover would be allowed to pursue an unfair dismissal case against her former employer, Ozcare.
Ms Glover, 64, who works with vulnerable people, was terminated after she refused to comply with a policy that required workers undergo flu vaccination by May 1.
She told the commission she refused the jab on medical grounds, following an anaphylactic reaction she suffered after a flu vaccine when she was seven years old and living in the Philippines.
Ms Bytheway said her case could set a crucial precedent.
“At the moment, the courts have not tested this, and Maria Glover is, in fact, going to be the person that tests it,” she said.
“I think, for her, one of the questions is that this was a long time ago when she had an adverse impact and things may be different now.”