Some of Australia’s leading employment associations are calling for Australian workplaces to be able to track whether staff are vaccinated against COVID-19.
As the Federal Government faces ongoing criticism about the sluggish vaccine rollout, employers are seeking to take matters into their own hands.
Australian Industry Group CEO Innes Willox said workplaces should be able to assist with the rollout by becoming “vaccination centres”.
Willox believes that employers should be given a “legal right” to collect data about their workers’ vaccination status to determine who is more at risk when working with the public at large.
Similarly, workplace relations advisor Employsure believes bosses should use employment management software to keep track of which workers have been vaccinated and which have not to ensure a safe workplace.
The advice firm has received an 800 per cent spike in vaccination-related calls from employers, Employsure said.
“Keeping track of which employees have received the COVID-19 vaccine, particularly as we see a resurgence in cases in winter, is an option employers should consider for their workplace,” said Employsure health and safety manager Larry Drewsen.
“An effective recording system and robust policies are a must in the workplace that will help employers communicate to staff how the vaccine affects them.”
Do I have to tell my boss whether I’m vaccinated?
Under current legislation, employers cannot force you to tell them your vaccination status.
“Legally, employees do not have to disclose their vaccination status to their boss, and as such, employers should assume a worker is unvaccinated if their employee doesn’t tell them,” Employsure said in a media statement.
But workplaces should encourage vaccinations regardless, “make suggestions”, and display vaccine-related material in the workplace, said Employsure.
The workplace advisor also encouraged employers to “hold meetings with employees” to “find out why” the worker has not had the vaccine and “discuss alternative roles” if they don’t want it.
“Terms of employment can and do change, and it is always an employee’s fundamental right to be treated fairly and reasonably,” said Drewsen.
“Some employees may be unable to have the vaccine for medical reasons, and it would therefore be considered discriminatory if their boss were to terminate their employment.”
Employers that aren’t sure how to proceed should get legal advice, Drewsen said.
Meanwhile, Willox believes laws need to change to give employers the right to collect vaccine status information on their workers.
“This is currently a problem given the Privacy Guidelines issued by the Australian Information Commissioner,” Willox said.
Vaccine mandatory for aged care workers
The call for a means to track employee vaccinations comes after Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced last week that it would become mandatory for aged care workers to get at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by mid-September.
He also lowered the AstraZeneca age threshold to permit all Australians to get it if they want.
But Innis says this isn’t enough.
“That’s well and good for aged care workers, but you have to think broader than that,” he told 2GB.
“You have to think about: who’s coming in and out of aged care centers to maintain the place, to repair the place, to service it, deliver food, all of that.
“The companies who do that need to know their workers doing those sorts of things are vaccinated as per the requirements, and that’s part of their jobs.”
The move, though belated, has been welcomed by one of Australia's largest aged care providers.
However, unions have been frustrated by what they are describing as a “failed” vaccine rollout, with the Australian Council of Trade Unions arguing that aged care workers should have been vaccinated in April.
“If the Morrison Government wants aged care workers vaccinated, they should keep their promise to visit every aged care home and offer it to them, and ensure casual workers are supported if they cannot work because of side effects,” said ACTU secretary Sally McManus.
“They should have been doing this from February and if they had, no doubt 90 per cent of the aged care workforce would be vaccinated by now.”
The Federal Government is “mandat[ing] vaccines that many people simply cannot get” because it has not secured enough supply, McManus said.