The government says the COVID-19 vaccine will be voluntary, so can an employer force an employee to have one?
The short answer is, yes, in many cases, according to employment lawyer Stephen Dryley-Collins from Worker Law.
“It could be grounds for dismissal by simply refusing the COVID-19 vaccine, if you’re doing it without a reasonable reason,” he said.
Sacked for refusing a COVID-19 vaccination
Front-line workers, including healthcare, aged care and also emergency service workers, will begin receiving the vaccine from March.
Employers in these sectors will almost certainly make immunisation an inherent requirement of the job.
As a result, workers will be forced to get a jab, or face dismissal.
Lawful and reasonable directions
Under current laws, employees must comply with lawful and reasonable directions given by their employers.
According to Mr Dryley-Collins, that could include having a COVID-19 vaccine.
“It would be considered a lawful and reasonable direction that during a pandemic, and it is a declared pandemic, that someone be directed to take the vaccine,” he said.
Employers also have a legal obligation to provide a safe workplace, and to ensure this, they could insist that staff get immunised.
Some people who have received the COVID-19 vaccine overseas have suffered severe allergic reactions.
Mr Dryley-Collins says workers who can’t tolerate the vaccine for medical reasons also face losing their job.
“You may find that if it is a requirement of the role, and it can be demonstrated that it is an absolute requirement of that role, and for whatever reason that person cannot tolerate it, medically, the employer might be within their rights to medically retire that person,” he said.
While anti-vaxxers aren’t covered by discrimination laws, those who object to a vaccine on the grounds of their religious beliefs are.
“In terms of religious or cultural belief, that is protected in Queensland under the Anti-Discrimination Act,” Dryley-Collins said.
“So you may have protections against being compelled to have a COVID-19 vaccine, in certain circumstances, if that is the reason for it.”
Human Rights Act
Public sector workers in Queensland, Victoria and the ACT might also have a right to object to a vaccine under Human Rights Laws.
Sections 17 of the Queensland Human Rights Act states that”
“A person must not be subjected to medical treatment without the person’s full, free and informed consent.”
“A COVID-19 vaccine is medical treatment, it is a medical procedure that is being given to you,” Dryley-Collins said.
“So the Queensland Human Rights Act does provide additional protections for people who don’t want to undergo any medical procedure.”
Seek expert advice
Workers concerned about compulsory vaccination, or directions from employers to undergo medical assessments, should seek urgent expert advice, according to Mr Dryley-Collins.
“Given the complexities of the matter at the moment, and the way the law is changing and evolving very quickly, it would be absolutely essential for anyone who is experiencing these sorts of issues to speak to an employment law expert as quickly as possible,” he said.
Workers have just 21 days from the date of termination to file an unfair dismissal claim.
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