COVID-19 vaccines are now approved for use in Australia. The question of whether these vaccines can be made compulsory for employees will be important. A recent case may give some guidance.
A childcare centre implemented a policy which made the influenza vaccine compulsory for all employees. The vaccine was provided for free by the employer. The employer also allowed employees the opportunity to seek an exemption from the policy if they had a medical reason for refusing the vaccine.
One employee at the childcare centre decided to refuse the vaccine. In correspondence with her employer the employee stated “I am not the Government created entity or person, nor am I a ward of the state. I am a non-combatant, non-belligerent civilian” as her reason for refusing to take the vaccine.
The employer fired the employee on the basis that the refusal was not on medical grounds and therefore the employee had refused to comply with a lawful and reasonable direction. The employee sued in the Fair Work Commission.
The Fair Work Commission decided that the employer’s policy of compulsory vaccination was necessary to be sure the employer met its duty of care to the children who attended the centre. The Commission agreed with the employer and found that the employer was entitled to dismiss the employee.
This case demonstrates that the Fair Work Commission will be prepared to uphold a logical policy that employees must get vaccinated. If your business decides to make vaccines compulsory then it is essential that you set out the policy with an easily understood explanation of why it is necessary.