A leading human resources expert has urged employers to prepare for workers turning down the COVID-19 vaccine, as company mandate and incentive schemes ramp up across the country.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has advised that employers are allowed to establish their own staff vaccine policies, encouraging major companies like Qantas to publicly announce employee vaccination mandates.

But Fair Work says it up to those companies to defend the legality of their policies, causing legal experts, unions, and industry groups to call for further government guidance.

Representatives for the employees of food processor SPC also say the company’s vaccine mandate plan was formed without proper worker consultation — a claim the company strenuously denies.

And new research from human resources platform Employment Hero suggests 12% of employees are against the vaccine altogether, suggesting mandates will not sway some workers’ decision to avoid the jab.

Kris Grant, CEO of management consultancy firm ASPL, says companies should hear the views of their employees, seek legal counsel, and map out the potential consequences before announcing any vaccine mandate.

“My recommendation is to really think through your communication, your relationships,” Grant told Business Insider Australia.

A solid dialogue between workers and employers can stave off serious HR stoushes later down the track, she added.

The Fair Work guidelines stress that employers must engage with workers before making a jab edict, but Employment Hero data suggests many of those discussions are yet to take place.

via Employment Hero

The outcome of those discussions can help employers with “scenario planning”, including the ramifications of workers deciding not to get vaccinated, Grant said.

“If someone says no, that’s the greatest challenge,” she said.

“And that’s where you obviously need to think about it with your legal counsel and go, ‘Well, this is obviously going to happen.’”

If an employee provides a genuine reason they cannot be vaccinated, Fair Work says workplaces “should consider whether there are any other options available instead of vaccination,” including “alternative work arrangements.”

Grant said that companies which already accommodate the religious and medical requirements of their staff should “adopt” those practices for those with genuine vaccine exemptions.

However, the lack of existing case law relating to COVID-19 vaccine mandates means employers should seek HR counsel and independently assess their legal requirements, Grant said.

“This is a really unusual time where we haven’t got any case law on this,” she said. “The government are obviously a little bit slower than we would like in giving recommendations.”

Data privacy a key concern

The Employment Hero data suggests 67% of workers are comfortable with employers storing their vaccination status, with 19% unsure, and 14% uncomfortable with the idea.

It is essential for employers to keep their staff’s vaccine data private and comply with the Privacy Act, Grant said.

Employers should be “really careful that you don’t share any one’s employee data, obviously, or choice,” she said.

Overt discussion about employee vaccination status should be limited, Grant added, with relevant dialogue about exemptions and allowances kept between worker and employer.

“You can imagine a scenario… when you’re in the workplace, and people go, ‘Are you vaxxed or not.’ So that’s just gonna happen, unfortunately.

“Leaders in HR need to ensure that they have this locked up tightly. And leaders should be saying, “this is not a point of discussion for everyone.”

Before a worker’s vaccination status becomes obvious to other staff — if, for example, an essential retail worker is rotated away from customer-facing duties during a localised COVID-19 outbreak — employers should assess their obligations under workplace and anti-discrimination laws.

“Every scenario that you can think of you should be talking to HR,” Grant said. “What worries me is that people or employers aren’t doing this scenario planning.”

As businesses map out vaccine mandate plans, the overall Australian vaccination rate continues to rise.

Health Department data shows that as of Friday, 28.9% of all Australians over 16 have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Employment Hero data suggests vaccine holdouts are not primarily motivated by opposition to the jab, but because the vaccine they want is not available to them.

via Employment Hero

Although serious side effects of the AstraZeneca vaccine are exceedingly rare, the federal government’s decision to expand eligibility for the Pfizer vaccine — the jab which health authorities recommend for younger Australians — is likely to encourage further uptake

Source: www.businessinsider.com.au/vaccine-mandate-human-resources-legal-requirements