Is it time to review your COVID-19 vaccination policy?
Market Insight 18 July 2022 18 July 2022
Top workplace issues
Many changes have happened in the past 6 months, including critical factors such as the COVID-19 variant in circulation and the rate of vaccination, including boosters. In this article we set out what these changes are and what they mean for your business, particularly if you have a mandatory vaccination policy in place. With changing community standards around the management of COVID-19, many businesses are looking to shed their mandatory vaccination requirements. However, this may not be as straightforward as you think.
Organisations in Australia now find themselves in a strange position where COVID-19 continues to circulate throughout the community but operations have generally returned to “business as usual”, with lockdowns, strict capacity limits and (in some jurisdictions) mandatory vaccination public health orders looking to be a thing of the past.
There have been several material changes in the laws and public health environment in the past 6 months. These include:
- Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 have become the dominant COVID-19 strains (they are considered to be more infectious and have a higher chance of re-infection because they are better at evading immunity)
- States and Territories rolling back their requirements regarding mandatory vaccination for workers in particular industries
- Boosters and new vaccines (such as Novavax) being widely available
- Active cases being recorded in the hundreds of thousands
- Increased influenza cases coinciding with the third wave of Omicron infections – leading to a phenomenon known as “flurona” (simultaneous COVID-19 and flu)
- International travel (for both work and recreation) has resumed
Despite some of the above factors (including our current third wave of Omicron), changing community standards and our knowledge of how COVID-19 impacts people, as well as the prevalence of additional measures to help us fight COVID-19 (including rapid antigen testing), mean that some businesses are now looking to roll back mandatory vaccination requirements in the workplace. This is particularly the case for low-risk industries.
How does this impact my COVID-19 vaccination policy?
Rolling back a COVID-19 vaccination policy may not be a straightforward process. A COVID-19 policy should have been implemented pursuant to a risk assessment and consultation process with workers. Similarly, they cannot be removed without undertaking the same risk assessment and consultation process. Careful consideration needs to be given to the risk assessment process, as previous risk assessments may no longer be fit for purpose in light of the new factors set out above (e.g. the substantial changes in the public health environment and our knowledge of COVID-19 transmission).
Consultation also needs to a considered process, as employees may have concerns about working with unvaccinated colleagues, particularly if they (or their loved ones) are immunocompromised. On the other hand, vaccination is (of course) an emotional and personal topic and employees may have strong feelings in the opposite direction.
Rolling back a COVID-19 policy may also be tricky where employees have been terminated for a failure to be vaccinated, or where prospective unvaccinated employees have been turned away in the hiring process.
If you would like to discuss how recent changes impact your COVID-19 policy, or you need any assistance with rolling back a mandatory vaccination requirement in your workplace, please do not hesitate to contact us.