Businesses seek legal advice about vaccines in the office ahead of Vic and NSW reopening

vaccine policies

Source: Unsplash/Arlington Research.

Legal advisors are receiving an influx of enquiries from small businesses about vaccine policies for offices, considering on-site work in the country’s two most populous states is set to resume in less than two months.

While Victoria’s newly released reopening roadmap signals officer workers can return to on-site work from November 5, NSW is yet to release details about the return to on-site work ahead of reaching its 70% vaccination target.

Olivia Hitchens, principal at Hitch Advisory, says businesses are taking a variety of approaches when it comes to vaccines and the workplace.

“Very few businesses are forcing vaccination and that’s because it’s a legal challenge to do that in an office environment where people can and have been working remotely,” Hitchens tells SmartCompany.

Most businesses are taking ‘a middle road approach’ by strongly encouraging vaccination while setting up COVID-19 safe plans.

“The issue of vaccines needs to be tackled but there’s also other protections that you need to communicate to staff and you also need to give people fair warning,” Hitchens says.

Hitchens advises businesses to set clear expectations about what returning to work might look like and whether staff will be permitted to work from home indefinitely.

For businesses that do implement vaccination directions, they must provide clear information to their staff about what it means for them if they decide not to — or are unable to — get vaccinated.

“You need to be giving people that information in advance so they can make an informed decision,” she says.

While businesses in frontline industries such as Qantas and SPC food have been faster to implement vaccination mandates, office-based businesses have begun to move on the issue.

Last month, US tech giant Salesforce revealed it was considering restricting on-site work in Australia to vaccinated staff when restrictions ease.

SmartCompany contacted NSW Health to confirm whether the state government plans to expand its compulsory vaccination orders to include office spaces, but was told more information would be made available closer to reopening.

A NSW Health spokesperson said the details of the roadmap are currently being worked through but there will be requirements in place to ensure only those who have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine can take advantage of new freedoms.

“Further information will be provided as we get closer to 70% of our population being double vaccinated,” they said.

Victoria’s roadmap states that when 80% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated, workers can return to on-site work and hairdressing and retail will open for fully vaccinated people.

Hitchens says many businesses preparing for reopening may be concerned about privacy issues involved in asking for their workers’ vaccination status.

“The most important thing that businesses can do is create a policy internally and communicate that policy and consult with employees about what’s going to happen and how it will affect them,” she says.

“Once you’ve done the policy and the consultation, you’ve got a clear way forward and it’s okay to ask people for their vaccine status.”

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