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Human Resources

What employers need to consider before mandating COVID vaccines in the workplace

Health Industry Hub | September 15, 2021 |
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Human Resources: There is a growing movement towards mandatory COVID vaccinations in many Australian workplaces. Many employers continue, however, to be unsure of their legal rights and obligations.

There are important business reasons for employers to consider mandatory vaccination policies including the employers’ duties under work health and safety (WHS) legislation. Workers also have duties under WHS laws to take reasonable care for their own health and the health and safety of other workers who may be affected by their acts or omissions.

However, the Human Rights Law Centre has warned against mandating vaccines outside of high-risk areas and called for a greater focus on supply and voluntary measures. 

A number of challenges have already been identified in the notion of company-mandated vaccinations, but the centre highlighted continued problems with the pace and coverage of the vaccination roll-out, including for groups who were at greater risk from COVID-19, like Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and people with disability.  

The recently released guidance from the centre is in response to growing calls to make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory in settings like high-risk workplaces or as a precondition to boarding an international flight. 

Human Rights Law Centre executive director Hugh de Kretser said that the government and employers must tread very carefully when considering mandatory vaccines, as well as consider appropriate exceptions.

“There are strong justifications for considering vaccine mandates in high-risk workplaces like aged, disability or healthcare. But outside of those areas, governments and employers must tread very carefully when thinking about mandating vaccines in workplaces,” he said.

“Right now, the focus must be on vaccine supply, access and promotion. Everyone who wants the vaccine should be able to get it, and public communication campaigns and incentives should be explored to promote vaccine uptake. Exceptions must be considered for people with genuine health or religious reasons.  

“Similarly, governments and businesses must tread very carefully when considering vaccine passport systems. It would be unfair to exclude people from goods and services if they cannot access the vaccine. There must be ways to ensure vaccine passport access for people without ready access to technology.”

Whilst the centre strongly supports vaccinations in order to save lives, protect health and enable governments to safely lift restrictions, Mr de Kretser maintained that “mandating vaccines for workers outside of high-risk areas should only be considered once all reasonable voluntary efforts have been exhausted.”

“Vaccines are crucial to saving lives and restoring freedom in this pandemic. However, making vaccinations mandatory in workplaces, and the use of vaccine passports, carry significant human rights risks,” he said.


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