COVID-19 for Workplaces Pack
For the Employer in the Education and training industry

Total supporting material in this pack: 2

Date of print/download 18 October 2021

General information

Operators of educational institutions must implement control measures to eliminate or minimise the spread of COVID-19 and ensure the health and safety of their workers and others. This is a requirement under Work Health and Safety laws. However, the extent to which educational institutions are currently open to staff or students varies across states and territories. 

You should follow the advice of the education, health and WHS authorities in your state or territory. The Australian Government Department of Health has also published guidance on reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission in educational institutions. 

If there is a case of COVID-19 in your workplace, your state or territory health authority will contact you and provide you with advice about what needs to be done. 

Where can I get more information?  

Commonwealth 

Victoria

New South Wales

South Australia 

Queensland

Western Australia

Tasmania

Australian Capital Territory

Northern Territory 

Vaccination

This page provides information about your obligations under the model WHS laws and how these relate to COVID-19 vaccines. 

Employers have a duty under the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws to eliminate, or if that is not reasonably practicable, minimise the risks of COVID-19 in the workplace so far as is reasonably practicable. Employers also have a duty to consult workers regarding COVID-19 risks and how these risks are to be managed. This includes the introduction of workplace policies relating to vaccination. This information will assist you to assess whether a COVID-19 vaccine is a reasonably practicable control measure to manage the risks of COVID-19 in your workplace.

You must also comply with any public health orders made by state and territory governments that apply to you and your workplace, including those mandating vaccination of particular workers.

A safe and effective vaccine is an important part of keeping the Australian community safe and healthy. The COVID-19 vaccines available for use in Australia will help protect people by preventing serious health effects of COVID-19 in the person who is vaccinated, if they are infected with the COVID 19 virus. However, a vaccinated person may still unknowingly carry and spread the virus to others around them, including workers and others in their workplace. Because of this, even if your workers are vaccinated, to meet your duties under the model WHS laws and minimise the risks of COVID-19 in your workplace, you must continue to implement all other reasonably practicable COVID-19 control measures such as:

  • ensuring your workers do not come to work when unwell
  • practising physical distancing
  • improving ventilation, where appropriate
  • practising good hygiene 
  • increasing cleaning and maintenance, and
  • wearing masks.

If you need information on COVID-19 and Australian workplace laws, go to the Fair Work Ombudsman website. The Fair Work Ombudsman has information on a range of matters, including giving directions to employees, leave entitlements and termination of employment. 

The national rollout of COVID-19 vaccines

The Australian Government is committed to providing all Australians with access to free, safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. 

The Australian Government is working together with state and territory governments to implement the COVID-19 Vaccines National Rollout Strategy and the COVID-19 Vaccination and Treatment Strategy. For further information, go to the Department of Health website.  

On 6 August 2021, National Cabinet agreed to a four-step National Plan to transition Australia’s National COVID-19 Response from the pre-vaccination settings focused on continued suppression of community transmission, to post-vaccination settings focused on prevention of serious illness and fatalities, where the public health management of COVID-19 is consistent with other infectious diseases. 

State and territory health agencies have issued public health orders that require some workers to be vaccinated, for example, those considered to be working in high risk workplaces, such as quarantine facilities and aged care. If public health orders are made in relation to your workers, you must follow them. You should stay up to date with the advice of your health agency.   

Information on public health directions in place in different jurisdictions can be found on the public health orders page.  

How COVID-19 vaccines work

A person who is vaccinated against COVID-19 is much less likely to suffer serious health effects from the virus if they catch COVID 19. 

Safe and effective COVID-19 vaccination is an important part of keeping the Australian community safe. However, a vaccinated person may still unknowingly carry and spread the virus to others around them, including workers and others in their workplace. Because of this, you must continue to implement all reasonably practicable control measures in your workplace, such as:

  • ensuring your workers do not come to work when unwell
  • practising physical distancing
  • improving ventilation, where appropriate
  • practising good hygiene 
  • increasing cleaning and maintenance, and
  • wearing masks.

The COVID-19 situation is evolving.  You must continue to assess the risks and review the control measures to ensure they continue to be effective.

For more information on how the COVID-19 vaccines work, go to the Department of Health website.

Vaccination and my WHS duties

Do I need to include mandatory vaccination as a control measure to comply with my WHS duties?

Under the model WHS laws, you have a duty to eliminate or if not reasonably practicable, minimise the risks of COVID-19 in the workplace so far as is reasonably practicable. You may not be able to completely eliminate the risk to workers of COVID-19, therefore you must  do all that is reasonably practicable to minimise the risks and vaccination should be considered as just one way to do so in the context of a range of COVID-19 control measures. 

However, even if vaccination is available to all of your workers this does not necessarily mean it is reasonably practicable for you to require vaccinations in your workplace or to all of your workers. Your risk assessment might indicate that you can meet your WHS duties by applying other controls to address the risk of COVID-19.

To minimise risks of COVID-19 in the workplace, you must:

  • undertake a risk assessment for your business (more information is available on the risk assessment page). Note in some jurisdictions, workplaces are required to develop COVID-19 safety plans under public health orders.
  • consider the effectiveness of available control measures and how they will help manage the risks of COVID-19, including any available vaccines.
  • consult with workers and HSRs about COVID-19 and relevant control measures, including the COVID-19 vaccines (more information on your consultation obligations is available on the consultation page ).
  • consult, co-operate and co-ordinate, so far as is reasonably practicable, with any other duty holders. 
  • determine what control measures are reasonably practicable for you to implement in your workplace (more information on the meaning of reasonably practicable is available on the risk assessment page ).

Whether a requirement for workers to be vaccinated is reasonably practicable will depend on the circumstances of your particular workplace and your workers at the time you undertake your risk assessment.  

Some factors you should consider on an ongoing basis include:

  • What is the extent of community transmission of COVID-19 where your workplace is located or where your workers perform their work? 
  • Considering the local situation, how likely is it that your workers will be exposed to the COVID-19 virus? 
  • Is a vaccine available for your workers?
  • Is the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee recommending COVID-19 vaccinations for all workers in your industry? 
  • Based on the available evidence, is the vaccine likely to reduce transmission or improve health outcomes for those at your workplace?
  • Are the vaccines effective at reducing the serious health effects of COVID-19, taking into account the circulating virus variant?
  • Are your workers likely to be exposed to COVID-19 as part of their work? For example, hotel quarantine workers will be at higher risk of COVID-19 when their work duties place them in contact with people who may be infected with the COVID-19 virus.
  • Do your workers work with people who would be vulnerable to severe disease if they contract COVID-19? 
  • What is the likelihood that COVID-19 could spread in the workplace? For example, some work tasks may require your workers to work in close proximity to each other, to your customers or members of the public. 
  • Do your workers interact with large numbers of other people in the course of their work that could contribute to a ‘super-spreading’ event if your workers contract COVID-19? 
  • What other control measures are available and in place in your workplace? Do those control measures already minimise the risks of COVID-19, so far as is reasonably practicable?
  • Would a requirement to be vaccinated be unlawful in the circumstances? For example, would it discriminate against a class of employees? If you need information on COVID-19 and Australian workplace laws, go to the Fair Work Ombudsman website. If you need information on the implications of anti-discrimination laws, go to the Australian Human Rights Commission website.

More information on the meaning of reasonably practicable is available on the risk assessment page for your industry and in the guide: How to determine what is reasonably practicable to meet a health and safety duty.

It is more likely to be reasonably practicable to mandate COVID-19 vaccination where workers are required as part of their duties to:

  • interact with people with an increased risk of being infected with COVID-19 (for example, health care workers treating COVID-19 patients, hotel quarantine or border control workers).
  • have close contact with people who are more likely to develop serious illness from COVID-19 (for example, health care or aged care workers).
  • interact with other people such as customers, other employees or the public (for example, stores providing essential goods and services) where there is a high level of community transmission.

The introduction of COVID-19 vaccines does not automatically mean businesses need to require workers to be vaccinated to meet their WHS duties. Even if vaccination is available to all of your workers it may not be reasonably practicable to require vaccinations at your particular workplace. Whether it is reasonably practicable should be determined based on a risk assessment and needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. 

If you conclude (following a risk assessment) that implementing a mandatory vaccination policy is necessary to minimise the risks of COVID-19 at your workplace, you need to consult with your workers and their representatives about the proposed vaccination policy. You should also provide your workers with relevant information and materials to assist their understanding of the issues.
 

Get advice

You should get legal advice if you are considering requiring your workers to be vaccinated. There are many issues to consider - workplace relations, discrimination and privacy issues will also be relevant. If you have a worker who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons, you may need to implement different control measures to minimise the risks of COVID-19 for this worker and other vulnerable persons, for example, if the individual has a disability (within the meaning of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992) and are more vulnerable to COVID-19 or are unable to be vaccinated. If you need information on implications of anti-discrimination laws, go to the Australian Human Rights Commission website.

Talk to your WHS regulator, the Fair Work Ombudsman, your employer organisation or other legal service before implementing a mandatory vaccination policy in your workplace.  

If after consultation and taking advice, you decide that a mandatory vaccination policy is a reasonably practicable control measure to minimise the risks of COVID-19, you will need to implement the policy as a part of meeting your WHS duties.

Remember, public health orders in your state or territory about COVID-19 vaccines may apply to your workers. You should keep up to date with what’s happening in your jurisdiction. More information is available on the public health orders page.  

I have determined that mandatory vaccination of my workers is not reasonably practicable at this time – what else can I do to support the vaccine rollout?

If you determine that it is not reasonably practicable to mandate COVID-19 vaccination for your workers based on your current workplace circumstances, you should still encourage your workers to get vaccinated, if they are able to. Having as many of your workers vaccinated as possible reduces the WHS risks for all workers, their families, your customers and the wider community.

Workplaces are recognised as a key setting for health promotion. You can help your workers find out more information about the vaccines by directing them to the Department of Health website. You can also develop your own informational material to support COVID-19 vaccination, provided certain conditions are met. The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has issued guidance on communicating about COVID-19 vaccines.

Workers, customers and vaccinations

Customers at the workplace can transmit the COVID-19 virus to your workers and other customers, and controls should be put in place to protect both workers and customers. Employers have a duty to ensure that the workplace is without risks to the health and safety of all persons (including customers, workers and visitors), so far as is reasonably practicable.  

To meet your duties under the model WHS laws and minimise the risks of COVID-19 in your workplace, employers must continue to implement all other reasonably practicable COVID-19 control measures such as:

  • limiting the numbers of customers permitted in your premises at any one time
  • practising physical distancing
  • improving ventilation, where appropriate
  • encouraging good hygiene
  • increasing cleaning, and 
  • wearing masks.  

Depending on the nature of the business, employers may need to consider whether a policy of only allowing vaccinated persons access to the workplace is a reasonably practicable control measure. This needs to be assessed on a case by case basis and will depend on the particular circumstances in your workplace, as well as the suitability and availability of other controls. 

You must also comply with any public health orders made by state and territory governments that apply to you and your workplace, including those relevant for customers and workers.

Can I require customers and visitors to prove they have been vaccinated before they can enter my workplace?

It is unlikely that WHS laws require you to ask customers and visitors for proof of vaccination. However, state and territory public health orders may require you to check for proof of vaccination as a condition of entry.

If you want customers and visitors to be vaccinated as a condition of entry to your premises and this is not required by a public health order, you should seek advice before you take any action as this may raise privacy and discrimination issues. 

For more information on privacy, go to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner website. For more information on anti-discrimination laws, go to the Australian Human Rights Commission website.   

Can my workers refuse to come to work because another worker isn’t vaccinated?

Under the model WHS laws, a worker can only cease or refuse to carry out work if the worker has a reasonable concern that to carry out the work would expose the worker to a serious risk to the worker’s health or safety from an immediate or imminent exposure to a hazard. In some circumstances, workers have the right to refuse to carry out or stop unsafe work. HSRs can also direct a worker in their work group to cease unsafe work if there is a reasonable concern that the worker will be exposed to a serious risk to their health and safety from an immediate or imminent hazard. 

In most circumstances, a worker will not be able to rely on the WHS laws to cease work simply because another worker at the workplace isn’t vaccinated. However, this will depend on the circumstances.

A person who is vaccinated against COVID-19 is much less likely to suffer serious health effects from the virus if they catch COVID 19. 

However, a vaccinated person may still unknowingly carry and spread the virus to others around them, including workers and others in their workplace. 

For vulnerable workers (especially those who cannot receive a vaccination), you should continue to implement other working arrangements where you reasonably can, such as working from home. If you need information on implications of anti-discrimination laws, go to the Australian Human Rights Commission website.

You should talk to your workers to understand their concerns about the risks of COVID-19 and assure them that you are continuing to implement reasonably practicable control measures which are known to reduce the spread of the virus in the workplace, such as. 

  • ensuring your workers do not come to work when unwell
  • practising physical distancing 
  • improving ventilation, where appropriate
  • practising good hygiene 
  • increasing cleaning and maintenance, and
  • wearing masks.

Some of my workers cannot be vaccinated because of medical conditions. How do I protect my unvaccinated workers from COVID-19?

A safe and effective COVID-19 vaccination is an important part of keeping the Australian community safe. However, a vaccinated person may still unknowingly carry and spread the virus to others around them, including workers and others in their workplace. Because of this, even if your workers are vaccinated, you must continue to implement all reasonably practicable control measures in your workplace, such as:

  • ensuring your workers do not come to work when unwell
  • practising physical distancing
  • improving ventilation, where appropriate
  • practising good hygiene 
  • increasing cleaning and maintenance, and
  • wearing masks where physical distancing is not possible.

You must also conduct a risk assessment to determine whether particular working arrangements (for example, working from home) should be put in place for workers who cannot be vaccinated. You should take into account the worker’s specific circumstances, the nature of your workplace and the type of work the worker performs. More information can be found on the vulnerable workers page for your industry and on the Australian Human Rights Commission website.

What about my obligations under workers’ compensation laws?

If a worker contracts COVID-19 at work

Under workers’ compensation laws workers may be entitled to workers’ compensation if they contract COVID-19 out of or in the course of employment. Workers’ compensation laws differ in each state and territory, so you should seek advice from your workers’ compensation authority. Contact details and more information on workers’ compensation is available on the workers’ compensation page. Some workers’ compensation laws presume that, for some categories of worker, a COVID-19 diagnosis is directly attributable to work for the purposes of workers’ compensation.

Adverse reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine

In some circumstances, a worker’s adverse reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine may be covered by workers’ compensation. The adverse reaction must amount to an ‘injury’. Minor and temporary side effects such as headache, fever or fatigue are unlikely to be compensable. 

If a worker suffers an ‘injury’, there must also be the necessary connection with employment to be compensable under workers’ compensation – that is, the injury must arise out of or in the course of the worker’s employment. In some cases, employment must also be a significant contributing factor to the injury.

Workers’ compensation laws differ in each state and territory, so you should seek advice from your workers’ compensation authority. Contact details and more information on workers’ compensation is available on the workers’ compensation page.

COVID-19 vaccine claims scheme

The Australian Government is developing a claims scheme to compensate people who suffer a moderate to significant impact following an adverse reaction to a Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approved COVID-19 vaccine and who suffer financial loss as a result (such as medical costs or lost wages). The scheme will cover the costs of injuries $5,000 and above due to administration of a TGA approved COVID-19 vaccine or due to an adverse event that is considered to be caused by a COVID-19 vaccination.

An entitlement to compensation under this scheme does not require any connection between the adverse reaction and the person’s employment. More information about the scheme is available here: COVID-19 vaccine claims scheme.