Questions over mandatory vaccine policies leave employers and employees divided

Research finds spike in take-up when jab is offered in the workplace

Questions over mandatory vaccine policies leave employers and employees divided

Employers are facing a tricky balancing act around the COVID-19 jab as some organisations begin to ponder the grey area surrounding mandatory vaccination policies.

This week, a Brisbane-based airline that flies predominantly between mining sites appears to have become the first employer to force staff to have the jab, saying any employees who refused may face disciplinary action. In the agedcare sector, the government is facing calls to mandate the vaccine for workers after two employees tested positive in the latest Melbourne outbreak.

New research from Indeed has found both employers and employees are largely divided over whether to mandate the vaccine. Of those surveyed, 44% of employees and 42% of employers were onboard with a mandatory policy, while the remainder were against the idea or undecided.

The data also highlighted the role of workplaces in facilitating vaccinations, finding that employees are far more likely to get the jab if it’s offered in the workplace. Only 18% of respondents said they were very likely to get the vaccine once eligible, but that figure jumped to 48% if it was rolled out through their place of work.

Speaking to HRD, Jay Munro, Indeed’s head of career insights, said the research has underlined the level of uncertainty on both sides of the equation.

“When it comes to the number of employees willing to get vaccinated if it is made more accessible, either through being done in the workplace or by giving people time off, that increase is significant,” he said. “I think it does show that a lot of people see barriers to being vaccinated.”

Read more: COVID-19 vaccine: Can I direct employees to be vaccinated?

Munro said if employers do begin to introduce mandatory policies, they must also put mechanisms in place to support employees, such as paid vaccine leave. But he warned there is a fine line between an employer’s role in educating staff and actively encouraging their employees to have the jab.

“There will be a group who don’t want to be vaccinated – and the choice is theirs – or those who can’t have it for medical reasons. As a result, HR’s role should be more around providing all of the accurate information that their employees need,” he said. “Using the word incentive around things like vaccine leave implies it’s a benefit, when it shouldn’t be.”

Recent advice from the Fair Work Ombudsman warned that the overwhelming majority of employers should assume they cannot require employees to be vaccinated. It says organisations must consider whether a specific law, such a state or territory direction is in place, whether an enterprise agreement requires vaccinations and if not, whether it would be lawful and reasonable to direct employees to be vaccinated.

Read more: Will workplace bullying rise as a result of COVID-19 vaccines?

Currently, state government directions are in place in both Western Australia and Queensland. All health service employees, ambulance workers, and hospital and health service contractors in Queensland are required to be vaccinated. In WA, the direction covers all workers involved in the state’s hotel quarantine system, including security workers, cleaners, ADF and police officers.

Elsewhere across Australia’s private sector, most employers appear to be taking a wait and see approach. Indeed’s survey found only 3 in 10 employers have begun conversations with staff about workplace vaccinations. A quarter of employers don’t feel well informed about the government’s vaccine roll-out plan, and a further 39% don’t feel adequately equipped or supported to start these conversations with staff. 

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