COVID-19, mandatory vaccines and work

COVID-19, mandatory vaccines and work

If you are told you must be vaccinated against COVID-19 coronavirus to keep your job, there are five things you need to know:

  • the law says some workers must be vaccinated
  • your employer can insist you get vaccinated if that is reasonable to make your workplace safe  
  • if you cannot be vaccinated because of a medical condition, you may be able to work, but it depends on your situation 
  • if you could be vaccinated, but choose not to, you could lose your job
  • you should not give your employer false information about whether you are vaccinated.

If you are not sure about your rights, you can get legal advice. See Where to get help.

Does the law say I must be vaccinated for work?

The Victorian Government has declared a state of emergency and given new powers to the chief health officer. The chief health officer can make directions that must be followed, the same as laws.

The chief health officer has made directions that you must be vaccinated against COVID-19 coronavirus if you work outside your home. This includes paid workers and contractors and people who do unpaid work, such as volunteers and students on placement. It does not include people employed by the Australian government or people connected to court proceedings. 

From 15 October 2021, your employer must collect, record and keep information about whether you are vaccinated. You should not give your employer false information about whether you are vaccinated. Your employer may have to provide this information to an authorised officer to prove they are following the law. If you are self-employed, you are your own employer and must follow the same rules. 

For most workplaces, you must have your first dose by 22 October 2021 and your second dose by 26 November 2021.  

From 15 October 2021, you can only work outside your home without being vaccinated if:

  • you cannot be vaccinated because you have a medical condition. For example, if you had anaphylaxis from a COVID-19 vaccine, or you have an acute illness. You must give your employer proof of this from a medical practitioner
  • you have a booking to get vaccinated before the deadline. You must give your employer proof of your booking
  • there are exceptional circumstances. For example, if your employer needs you to work because of a medical emergency.

There are different timelines for people working in:

  • residential aged care
  • construction
  • healthcare
  • schools
  • childcare.

For more information about which workers must be vaccinated, and the timelines for different industries, see Information for industry and workers required to be vaccinated or Directions issued by Victoria’s chief health officer. For information about vaccine requirements across Australia, see the Fair Work Ombudsman webpage on COVID-19 vaccinations: workplace rights and obligations.

What if my employer says I must be vaccinated?

If the chief health officer has not made directions about your industry, your employer may still:

  • say you must be vaccinated
  • ask for proof that you have been vaccinated.

However, your employer can only do this if it is reasonable to make your workplace healthy and safe. If it is reasonable, and you refuse, you could lose your job. What is reasonable depends on the type of work you do and the risks if you are not vaccinated.

If you cannot be vaccinated because you have a medical condition, you should tell your employer. Your employer should not discriminate against you (treat you unfairly) if you have a disability, like a medical condition. You and your employer can try to work out other ways to keep you and your workplace safe. For example, you may be able to perform different duties or work from home. Your employer should make reasonable adjustments to your work if that is possible. What is reasonable depends on your situation and the type of work you do. 

You do not have to give your employer private medical information, like proof of vaccination, unless they need it to make your workplace safe. If it is reasonable for your employer to ask you for proof that you are vaccinated, do not give them false information. Lying to your employer about being vaccinated may breach your employment contract – you could be disciplined or even dismissed.

Your employer must make sure your workplace is healthy and safe for you and others. If you cannot do your job in a way that is safe, your employer can dismiss you. 

If your employer says they will dismiss you, and you think that is unfair, get legal advice immediately. See Where to get help.

What if I do not want to be vaccinated?

You can choose to not be vaccinated against COVID-19 coronavirus.

However, this could mean losing your job, depending on your circumstances and the type of work you do. 

Some beliefs are protected by discrimination laws in Victoria, like religious beliefs and political beliefs. That means your employer should not treat you unfairly because of your religious beliefs or political beliefs. 

However, discrimination laws are unlikely to protect you if you refuse to be vaccinated because of your beliefs about vaccines. 

There are also situations when discrimination laws do not apply. That means you could lose your job if you refuse to be vaccinated and either of the following apply:

  • the chief health officer has directed that you must be vaccinated to work 
  • it is reasonable for your employer to insist you are vaccinated to make your workplace safe.

For more information about discrimination and vaccines, see the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission Explainer: Mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations and your rights.

More information

See JobWatch’s webpage about Mandatory vaccinations in the workplace.

Read about discrimination and vaccines in the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission Explainer: Mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations and your rights.

Learn more about legal issues and COVID-19 coronavirus.

Visit our ‘Find legal answers’ page on Employment and your rights.

Where to get help

If you need help with discrimination at work, contact us for legal help. Discrimination means that you are treated badly because of something that is protected by the law, like your religious beliefs or a disability.

If you need help with other employment issues, contact JobWatch.

If you need help with other legal issues, see ‘Get help’.

Acknowledgement

We acknowledge and thank JobWatch for assisting us to prepare this information.

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