In the wake of Victoria’s Delta outbreak which has seen case numbers surpass those of NSW, the Victorian Government has announced mandatory vaccine requirements for “authorised workers” who are not working from home.
What is particularly unique about the Victorian requirements is the number of workers captured under this mandate – until now, only NSW and the Northern Territory have announced wide-sweeping vaccine requirements. It is estimated that this mandate will apply to approximately one million workers across Victoria.
All workers on the authorised worker list who are not working from home must have:
Exemptions have been announced for medical reasons (likely restricted to a medical contraindication to the COVID-19 vaccine only) and for the consular and diplomatic corps. There will also be a provision for operators to approve unvaccinated workers to continue working under limited exceptional circumstances, which are generally premised on needing a worker to provide urgent care or perform emergency work (including on assets, premises and infrastructure) in emergency/unforeseen circumstances and where a vaccinated worker cannot be sourced in a timely manner.
Authorised providers are businesses which are able to open in Restricted Areas while stay at home orders are in place. Authorised workers include anyone who performs work which is essential for the continued operation of any business on the list provided by the Victorian Government, including authorised providers but also a number of other services or facilities. These are quite varied – a handful of examples (to illustrate the range) include adult and higher education services, manufacturing, farming activities, journalist and media activities and services related to the administration of justice.
The full list should be consulted and it is available here: https://www.coronavirus.vic.gov.au/authorised-provider-and-authorised-worker-list
Businesses and organisations need to ensure that they carefully review the extensive authorised providers and authorised workers list to determine whether they and their employees are captured within the mandate. These requirements need to be understood now and communicated to employees well in advance of the first deadline of 15 October 2021. This is because, firstly, employers should not assume that everyone will have received and understood the announcement regarding the mandate. In the fast-paced COVID-19 media landscape, announcements can be overlooked and there have also been reported issues with messages reaching culturally diverse and non-English speaking communities.
Employers also need to make sure they communicate with their employees now as there will be some, despite the mandate, who still choose to refuse vaccination. By engaging with employees now, businesses and organisations can secure business continuity by resolving issues ahead of time. Exemptions will need to be requested and verified, and employers will also need to determine how they will manage those who simply choose not to be vaccinated – whether alternative arrangements can be made or whether they can be redeployed elsewhere in the business, for example.
A vaccine mandate does not mean smooth sailing and businesses should seek expert advice ahead of time if they foresee any difficulties communicating these requirements to employees or in the event of any disputes to ensure they are resolved in full compliance with employment laws.