Worker fired for refusing vaccine loses unfair dismissal claim

The case sets a precedent in the COVID vaccine debate

Worker fired for refusing vaccine loses unfair dismissal claim

An employee at a childcare centre in Queensland – who claimed she had been unfairly dismissed for refusing to get vaccinated against influenza – has lost her bid to return to work. The decision is believed to have implications on the ongoing debate about mandatory COVID-19 staff vaccinations.

In a ruling by the Fair Work Commission, deputy president Nicholas Lake found no basis to exempt the worker from her employer’s directive to have all staff immunised. He believed the company’s health policy was reasonable given how the nature of the complainant’s work entailed close contact and how children were often at risk of contracting the flu.

Read more: COVID-19 vaccine: How to reduce hesitancy among staff

The childcare centre’s decision to require flu vaccinations among workers last year was said to be within reason because the policy aimed to protect not only the workers but the children under their care and the whole community, the FWC said.

The employee, who said she was being treated for autoimmune conditions and living a “chemical-free life,” reportedly declined the flu vaccine because she was “terrified of suffering an adverse reaction from it including the risk of getting another autoimmune disease”. She said she had a sensitive immune system and experienced migraines after she received a flu shot in the past. Her claim before the FWC, she said, was a “conscientious objection”.

Read more: Are we relaxing COVID measures at work too soon?

Dr. Andrew Lingwood, a specialist in occupational and environmental medicine who provided expert opinion to the FWC, said patients with chronic diseases should still be immunised since they may be more prone to the flu. “It is my professional medical opinion there is no evidence of a medical barrier to [the worker] receiving an influenza vaccination,” Dr. Lingwood said.

On the issue of COVID vaccinations, however, the Fair Work Ombudsman advises employers to tread with caution. “In the current circumstances, the overwhelming majority of employers should assume that they can’t require their employees to be vaccinated against coronavirus,” the FWO said. However, the advisory may change depending on the workers’ circumstances, such as their risk of exposure to the virus.

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