Can or should business’ make COVID-19 Vaccines compulsory for employees?

The case I’ve briefly outlined below highlights how a business could, potentially, undo itself if it neglects its duty of care principal for their employees

An Australian dental entrepreneur who, in July 2020, went to New York to setup the American arm of his dental practice to ensure ongoing employment viability for his Australian employees. However, he contracted Covid-19 whilst shortly arriving in the US and unfortunately in November 2021 he passed away.

The surface issue is that his trip was company business and his passing away is subject to death payout of over $800k (under workers compensation laws) and his medical expenses in the US exceeded $11m.

However, the underlying issues are where and when did this person contract Covid-19 – that is, while working or while socialising whilst in New York.

The legalities and technicalities of this situation are not the intent of this article.

Rather, my question or point is where businesses stand with enforcing mandatory vaccinations for their employees.

The most striking comment in the blog I read was as follows:

“The case, which comes amid debate over whether employers will be able to make COVID-19 vaccines compulsory, highlights the costs businesses and insurers could face if staff contract the virus during work-related activity as well as the difficulties employees might have in proving they caught it at work.”

Can a business force it’s employees to get vaccinated for Covid-19?

According to Safe Work Australia, ”A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) has a primary duty of care to ensure the health and safety of workers while they are at work in the business or undertaking and others who may be affected by the carrying out of work, such as visitors”

To meet your duties under the model WHS laws and minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in your workplace, you must continue to apply all reasonably practicable COVID-19 control measures including physical distancing, good hygiene and regular cleaning and maintenance and ensuring your workers do not attend work if they are unwell.  Have a look at my article on Does your workplace have a working Covid Safety Plan

You must also comply with any public health orders made by state and territory governments that apply to you and your workplace.

Having said this, it looks like larger businesses are now coming out and taking a stance – that is, mandating their employees are vaccinated as a condition of employment – examples include SPC, QANTAS, Virgin and even BHP.

While the debate on compulsory vaccinations in the workplace continues to unfold and hopefully crystalise, my strongest recommendation to all businesses is to err on the side of safety, medical safety, and do your best to ensure your staff, contractors and visitors are as best protected from this disease as possible.

Safety Services Australia is here to help – if you are unsure about your position with respect to unvaccinated employees or those who refuse to be vaccinated, for whatever reason, then contact us. Together we can carry out a risk assessment to determine the extent of risk posed in your workplace.  You can reach us on  +61 29634 5912.