More than half of HR professionals factor vaccine status into hiring decisions. Is it legal?


A vaccine being administrated. Source: Unsplash/CDC.

Human resources experts are warning recruiters to be careful of their legal obligations when screening candidates, after a study found more than half of HR professionals said they factor applicants’ vaccine status into hiring decisions.

The Australian HR Institute surveyed 760 HR professionals across Australia in late November, finding that 59% of respondents said they consider the vaccination status of job candidates when making recruitment decisions. Meanwhile, 10% said they don’t, and the remaining 31% were unsure.

The survey found vaccinations continue to be an issue in organisations, with HR professionals still figuring out how to manage staff who choose not to be vaccinated.

About a quarter of HR professionals have terminated the contracts of staff who didn’t get vaccinated, while 20% said they have created remote-only roles for unvaccinated employees.

Angela Knox, associate professor of human resource management and industrial relations at the University of Sydney Business School, says the survey shows there’s considerable “uncertainty” among recruiters.

“Clearly there’s uncertainty and misunderstanding,” Knox tells SmartCompany.

“Legally, an organisation can only require an employee to be vaccinated if there’s a public health order or there are particular aspects of the job that place the worker at high risk,” Knox says.

Knox says unless a vaccination mandate is in place, it would not be appropriate for recruiters to consider a candidate’s vaccination status during the hiring process.

For Alex Hattingh, chief people officer at Employment Hero, the only circumstance she would check an employee’s vaccine status is if they were working on-site.

Hattingh tells SmartCompany the cloud-based HR startup has a certification area in its platform, allowing current staff members to provide their vaccine status if they want to work from the office.

“We do not ask candidates if they have been vaccinated, but we do say ‘we’re a remote-first organisation, and if you want to come in and utilise any of our spaces, you have to have a double vaccination’,” Hattingh says.

The Australian HR Institute’s survey also revealed that employee wellbeing is the number one stress point for organisations, with 61% of HR professionals saying that was the biggest issue they were facing.

Navigating COVID-19 vaccines, masks and returning to on-site work was the second largest set of problems, after 42% of respondents said those issues were having a negative impact on organisational culture.

Earlier this week, the federal government updated its advice about COVID-19 booster shots, allowing people to receive a Moderna of Pfizer booster five months after receiving their second vaccine dose instead of six.

The announcement followed studies conducted overseas that suggest receiving booster shots earlier than six months after the last dose could help protect people from new strains of COVID-19, such as the Omicron variant.


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1 month ago

This article is misleading.

1 month ago

Businesses in Australia are working under an ABN which is a federally governed system. Australia’s federal government has stated categorically that they do not enforce mandates! State parliaments are illegally mandating that businesses follow their directives! And big law suits will inevitably ensue for those businesses that do so!