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

Total supporting material in this pack: 2

Date of print/download 18 October 2021

General information

Your employer 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 and your employer 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 your employer and provide them 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

Your employer has 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. 

A safe and effective vaccine is an important part of keeping the Australian community safe and healthy. 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, workplaces must continue to apply all other reasonably practicable control measures  to minimise the risks of COVID-19, such as:

  • ensuring 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.

This page provides information on your rights and obligations under the model WHS laws in relation to the COVID-19 vaccines. You can also contact your WHS regulator, health and safety representative (HSR) or worker organisation for assistance. 

If you need information on your rights and obligations under workplace relations laws, such as your leave entitlements, go to the Fair Work Ombudsman website.  

The national rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines

The Australian Government’s COVID-19 Vaccines National Rollout Strategy identifies priority groups for vaccination, including critical and high-risk workers. The Australian Government is committed to providing all Australians with access to free, safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. While the Government aims to have as many Australians as possible choose to be vaccinated, receiving a vaccination is voluntary. You should get a COVID-19 vaccine if you can. If you have any concerns you should discuss these with your doctor. 

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 and to find out when you are able to get a COVID-19 vaccine, 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, whereby the public health management of COVID-19 is consistent with other infectious diseases. 

State and territory health agencies may make public health orders that require some workers to be vaccinated. If public health orders are made, you must follow them - 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 Fair Work Ombudsman’s website. If you are subject to a public health order requiring you to be vaccinated, you must comply with the order. 

How the 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. 

A safe and effective COVID-19 vaccination is only one 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, your employer must continue to apply all other reasonably practicable control measures, such as:

  • ensuring their 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.  Your employer 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.

Can I be forced to get a vaccine?

You cannot be forced to get a vaccination or undergo any medical procedure against your will. 

However, in some cases, employers may lawfully require workers to have had a vaccine to perform work or to undertake certain tasks in a workplace, including where there is a public health order which requires vaccination or where the employer has determined vaccination to be a reasonably practicable control measure to minimise the risks of COVID-19 at your workplace.

If you are a worker who cannot be vaccinated, and you work at a workplace that requires vaccination, you should talk to your employer, health and safety representative (HSR) or worker representative about your options. For example, your employer may agree that you can perform your work from home. For information about your workplace rights you can also talk to the Fair Work Ombudsman.

If you cannot be vaccinated due to an attribute protected under anti-discrimination laws, for example due to a disability, you can seek further information from the Australian Human Rights Commission about your rights.

Can my employer require me to be vaccinated against COVID-19 under WHS laws?

All Australians are being encouraged to choose to be vaccinated. 

The COVID-19 vaccines available for use in Australia can prevent the serious health effects of COVID-19 in the person who is vaccinated, 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. 

The model work health and safety laws require your employer to do what is reasonably practicable to protect workers from the risks of COVID-19. 

Your employer may decide that vaccination is a necessary control measure to protect workers and others from the risks of COVID-19 at the workplace. Your employer must have conducted a risk assessment to determine whether vaccination is a reasonably practicable measure. 

Vaccination will not always be a reasonably practicable measure to minimise the risks of COVID-19. However, if you are required, as part of your role, 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

it is likely that vaccination will be a reasonably practicable measure your employer may implement to minimise the risks of COVID-19 at the workplace. 

However, even if vaccination is available to all workers, this does not necessarily mean it is reasonably practicable for businesses to require vaccinations in their workplace or to all of their workers. Whether it is reasonably practicable should be determined based on risk assessment and needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Before your employer makes a decision about requiring vaccination, they have an obligation to consult with workers, and any health and safety representative, before any decisions are made.

If your employer does require you to be vaccinated, they should provide you with relevant information and materials so that you can make an informed decision about vaccination and you should talk to your doctor if you have any concerns. 

More information on the vaccines is available from the Department of Health website. You can also contact your WHS regulator,  health and safety representative (HSR) or worker organisation for assistance.

There may also be specific public health orders in your state or territory that require you to be vaccinated in order to perform certain types of work. If this is the case, you and your employer must comply and your employer does not need to consult with you before following a public health order. However, your employer should discuss with you what the orders require and what you and your employer need to do to comply with the order. More information is available on the public health order page . 

If you cannot be vaccinated due to an attribute protected under anti-discrimination laws, for example due to a disability, you can seek further information from the Australian Human Rights Commission about your rights.

What about my duty as a worker under WHS laws? Does this mean I have to be vaccinated?

As a worker, you must take reasonable care of yourself and not do anything that would adversely affect the health and safety of others at work. You must also follow any reasonable health and safety instructions from your employer as far as you are reasonably able.

For example, if you have any COVID-19 symptoms, you should get tested and not attend work until you have a negative test result. Further information on pay, leave and stand downs can be found at the Fair Work Ombudsman’s website. 

If there is a law or public health order in place which requires you to be vaccinated, for example because you work in a certain industry, you may need to be vaccinated to work, or continue to work, in that industry. Your employer may also require you to be vaccinated in order to minimise the risks of COVID-19 at your workplace.

If your employer does require you to be vaccinated, they should provide you with relevant information and materials so that you can make an informed decision about vaccination and you should talk to your doctor if you have any concerns. 

Some workers may not be able to be vaccinated for medical reasons. This situation is discussed further below. If you cannot be vaccinated due to an attribute protected under anti-discrimination laws, for example due to a disability, you can seek further information from the Australian Human Rights Commission about your rights.

For more information on the COVID-19 vaccines, go to the Department of Health website. You can also contact your WHS regulator , health and safety representative (HSR) or worker organisation for assistance.

Can I be dismissed from my job or penalised if I decide not to be vaccinated?

The Fair Work Ombudsman provides information and advice to employers and employees on workplace entitlements and obligations under Australian workplace laws. For more information go to the Fair Work Ombudsman website

If your employer implements a mandatory vaccination policy and you decide not to be vaccinated, your employer may agree that you can perform your work from home or that you can perform your duties differently to reduce the risks of COVID-19 (depending on the industry you work in or the type of work you do).  This will be a matter of negotiation between you and your employer.

If you cannot be vaccinated due to an attribute protected under anti-discrimination laws, for example due to a disability, you can seek further information from the Australian Human Rights Commission about your rights.

Does my employer have to consult with me before requiring vaccinations at my workplace?

If your employer is considering introducing a mandatory vaccination policy in your workplace under the model WHS laws, they must consult with you and your health and safety representative (HSR), if any, before taking any action. Your employer must give you an opportunity to share your ideas and express any concerns about the proposed vaccination policy and take them into account. You should let them know if there is a reason why you cannot be vaccinated. 

Consultation must occur using the established consultation procedures at your workplace, if you have any. Under the model WHS laws, employers are required to discuss and listen to workers concerns before making decisions.

There may also be specific public health orders in your state or territory that require you to be vaccinated in order to perform certain types of work. If this is the case, you and your employer must comply and your employer does not need to consult with you before following a public health order. However, your employer should discuss with you what the orders require and what you and your employer need to do to comply with the order. More information is available on the public health orders page.  

More information is available on the consultation page.

What do I do if I have concerns about the COVID-19 vaccines?

The Australian Government is committed to ensuring Australians have access to safe and effective vaccines. Any COVID-19 vaccine can only be used in Australia if the Therapeutic Goods Administration has approved it through its rigorous approvals process. More information on the approvals process is available on the Department of Health website.

If you still have concerns about receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, you should talk to your doctor. 

I’m pregnant – can I be vaccinated?

Vaccination is recommended for people who are pregnant. Specific advice on COVID-19 vaccination for those who are pregnant, breastfeeding or planning pregnancy is available on the Department of Health website.

I will not be able to be vaccinated because of a medical condition. What should my employer do?

A safe and effective COVID-19 vaccination is only one 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, your employer must continue to implement all other reasonably practicable control measures in your workplace, such as:  

  • ensuring 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.

Your employer must also consider whether, because of your circumstances, particular working arrangements (for example, working from home) need to be put in place for you, for example, if you have a disability (within the meaning of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992) and are more vulnerable to COVID-19 or are unable to be vaccinated. Your employer should take into account your specific circumstances, the nature of your workplace and the type of work you do.

More information can be found on the vulnerable workers page and on the Australian Human Rights Commission website.  Further information on alternative work arrangements can be found on the Fair Work Ombudsman’s website. If you cannot be vaccinated due to an attribute protected under anti-discrimination laws, for example due to a disability, you can seek further information from the Australian Human Rights Commission about your rights. 

I am vaccinated. Do I still have to take other precautions such as physical distancing, wearing masks and frequently washing my hands?

Yes. A safe and effective vaccine is only one part of keeping the Australian community safe and healthy. It is important that you continue to take the following steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19:

  • follow the public health orders in your state or territory
  • don’t attend work when you are unwell, have COVID-19 symptoms or have been told to stay at home by health officials (e.g. you are required to quarantine or have been tested for COVID-19)
  • do all you reasonably can to work safely, including observing controls your employer has put in place under their Work Health and Safety policy for COVID-19 such as physical distancing and cleaning processes and procedures
  • follow training and instructions your employer has provided to you (e.g. about how to wash hands thoroughly) 
  • ask if you’re not sure how to safely perform the work 
  • use personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and gloves in the way you were trained and instructed to use it, and 
  • report any unsafe situations (e.g. a lack of soap in the bathroom) to your supervisor or to your health and safety representative (HSR).

Your employer is required to make sure everyone in your workplace keeps practising COVID-19 control measures even after vaccination targets have been reached.

If you cannot wear a mask due to an attribute protected under anti-discrimination laws, for example due to a disability, you can seek further information from the Australian Human Rights Commission about your rights.

Can my employer ask me for proof that I am vaccinated? 

If you are required under a public health order to be vaccinated or your employer has implemented a mandatory vaccination policy at your workplace, they may ask you to confirm your vaccination status and request evidence that you have been vaccinated. Also, some public health orders give an employer the right, and in some cases the obligation, to ask relevant employees for vaccination evidence and require the employees to provide such evidence.  They may also be required to pass that evidence to a third party, such as the occupier of a premises where work is to be undertaken.

More information about workplace privacy is available on the Fair Work Ombudsman website or the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner website.

The Fair Work Ombudsman provides information and advice to employers and employees on workplace rights and obligations under Australian workplace laws. For more information on COVID-19 vaccinations and workplace rights and obligations go to the Fair Work Ombudsman website

Am I entitled to workers’ compensation if I get COVID-19? 

Under workers’ compensation laws you may be entitled to workers’ compensation if you contract COVID-19 out of or in the course of your employment. Workers’ compensation laws differ in each state and territory, so contact your workers’ compensation authority if you need advice.  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.

Contact details and more information on workers’ compensation is available on the workers’ compensation page


Adverse reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine

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

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

Each state and territories workers’ compensation laws are different, so you should seek advice from your workers’ compensation authority if you believe that you have suffered an injury from a COVID-19 vaccine related to your employment.

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 your employment. More information about the scheme is available here: COVID-19 vaccine claims scheme.