On 9 April 2021, the Fair Work Ombudsman indicated that the vast majority of employers should assume that they will be unable to make vaccinations mandatory for their employees. Perhaps this kind of guidance will change as pandemic conditions change in time to come.
At the moment, the Australian Government is committed to providing all Australians with access to COVID-19 vaccines. While the Government aims to vaccinate as many Australians as possible, receiving a vaccination is currently voluntary.
However, on 19 April 2021, the Western Australian Government issued a media statement that it would make a public health order on 27 April 2021 that mandates COVID-19 vaccinations for hotel quarantine workers from 10 May 2021. Employers and workers will need to comply with any public health orders that apply to them. All employers should therefore keep themselves up to date with any new directives coming from Federal or State Governments.
There may be some circumstances where an employer may require their employees to be vaccinated. It may be a case of keeping a lookout for the decisions of the tribunals and the courts as the law evolves in this area.
Some relevant factors to consider for now would include:
One example of the ‘reasonable and lawful’ criterion for an employer to apply occurred in the case of Barber v Goodstart Early Learning  FWC 2156 decided by the Fair Work Commission on 20 April 2021.
In that case, the Fair Work Commission found that the worker’s failure to comply with the employer’s vaccination policy was a valid reason for her dismissal. The worker had refused to comply with the employer’s directive to get vaccinated against the flu. The employer argued that the management of biological hazards was necessary to protect its employees and the children under their care.
A mandatory vaccination policy may be deemed reasonable if employees interact with people who:
To assist employers in determining the reasonableness of a vaccination policy, Safe Work Australia recommends that employers conduct a risk assessment based on the particular risks associated with an employer’s workplace and nature of the role. For example, it may be reasonable for employees working in aged care to be vaccinated as they are in close contact with people in vulnerable groups.
If a mandatory vaccination policy is deemed reasonable, it must also be lawful and comply with any relevant contract, award, agreement or law. This includes anti-discrimination law.
Employers and employees are encouraged to take a collaborative approach when discussing, planning for and facilitating COVID-19 vaccinations in the workplace.
For assistance with employment law, please contact:
 The Fair Work Ombudsman COVID-19 Vaccinations and the Workplace (updated 9 April 2021).
The Fair Work Ombudsman COVID-19 Vaccinations and Workplace rights and obligations (updated 27 April 2021).
 Safe Work Australia, COVID-19 information for workplaces (Web Page, 23 February 2021) <https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/covid-19-information-workplaces>.