COVID-19 for Workplaces Pack
For the Small Business in the Aged care industry

Total supporting material in this pack: 2

Date of print/download 8 May 2021

General information

Aged care providers must implement control measures to eliminate or minimise the spread of COVID-19 and ensure the health and safety of their workers, residents and others at the workplace. This is a requirement under Work Health and Safety laws.   

The Australian Government Department of Health has published a range of specific resources on COVID-19 for aged care providers, including those providing in-home care. You should refer to these resources for information about what to do.  

Further information is available from: 

Vaccination

Which vaccine will residential aged care workers receive?

Residential aged care workers will receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in Phase 1a of the National Rollout Strategy.

For more information about the COVID-19 vaccines, see the Department of Health website.

When will residential aged care workers get the vaccine?

Aged care workers are a priority population in Phase 1a of the National Rollout Strategy

Phase 1a vaccinations are expected to begin in February 2021.

How will the vaccine be rolled out to residential aged care workers?

Steps for providing vaccines to residential aged care workers are provided in the National Rollout Strategy.

For more information and updates on how the COVID-19 vaccines will be distributed go to the Department of Health website

Under the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws you must ensure the safety of your workers, yourself and any others in the workplace as much as you reasonably can.

This page provides information about your obligations under the model WHS laws and how these relate to COVID-19 vaccines. This information will assist you if you are unsure whether you need to require your workers to be vaccinated, however for most small business owners, you will not need to do so to comply with the model WHS laws. 

Remember, a vaccine is just one part of keeping the Australian community safe and healthy. To meet your WHS duties keep doing all the other things you have put in place to stop the spread of the virus including physical distancing, good hygiene and regular cleaning and maintenance and making sure your workers know not to attend work if they are unwell. You must also comply with any public health orders that apply to you and your workplace.

If you need information on COVID-19 and Australian workplace laws, go to the Fair Work Ombudsman website. The Fair Work Ombudsman has information about giving directions to workers, leave entitlements and ending 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. While the Government aims to have as many Australians as possible choose to be vaccinated, receiving a vaccination is voluntary. You can encourage your workers to get a COVID-19 vaccination, if they are able to. You can also help your workers find out more information about the vaccines by directing them to the Department of Health website.  

Workplaces are recognised as a key setting for health promotion. You can encourage your workers to get a COVID-19 vaccination, if they are able to. You can also help your workers find out more information about the vaccines by directing them to the Department of Health website.  

The Australian Government’s COVID-19 Vaccines National Rollout Strategy identifies priority groups for vaccination, including critical and high-risk workers. The rollout will start with older Australians and certain industries. 

The Australia Government is working together with state and territory governments to implement the arrangements under the Australian Vaccination and Treatment Strategy and the Rollout Strategy. For further information, go to the Department of Health website

Some workers may have to get a vaccine under public health orders made by states and territories, for example, for people working in high risk workplaces. If public health orders apply to your business or workers, you must follow them. You should stay up to date with the advice of your health agency.

Queensland has issued a public health direction for health workers working with diagnosed cases of COVID-19. For a link to Queensland’s public health directions go to our public health orders page. 

There are currently no laws or public health orders in other states or territories that specifically enable you to require your employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

How COVID-19 vaccines work

The COVID-19 vaccines will help protect people by either preventing or reducing symptoms of COVID-19 in the person who has received the vaccine.

At this stage it is too early to tell if the COVID-19 vaccines will stop a vaccinated person from being infected with the virus. This means that a vaccinated person may unknowingly carry and spread the virus to others around them, including workers and others in their workplace. For this reason, you must continue to apply all reasonably practicable control measures to stop the spread of the virus.

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

Vaccination and my WHS duties

The Australian Government is committed to providing all Australians with access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, for those who wish to be vaccinated. While the Australian Government is not making vaccination mandatory, states and territories may do so for some industries or workers through public health orders

Queensland has issued a public health direction for health workers working with diagnosed cases of COVID-19. For a link to Queensland’s public health directions go to our public health orders page. 

The model WHS laws require you to ensure the safety of your workers, yourself and any others in the workplace as much as you reasonably can. This includes the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. You may not be able to completely eliminate the risk of workers being exposed to COVID-19 while at work. However, you must do all that you reasonably can to minimise this risk. 

To reduce risks such as COVID-19 in the workplace, you must:

  • undertake a risk assessment for your business (more information is available on the information for small business page)
  • consider the available control measures and how they will help manage the risks of COVID-19, including any available vaccines, taking into account available evidence
  • consult with workers and any 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)
  • 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 information for small business page)

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

It is unlikely that a requirement to be vaccinated will be reasonably practicable. 

This is because, for example:

  • public health experts, such as the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee have not recommended a vaccine be made mandatory in your industry 
  • there may not yet be a vaccine available for your workers, or
  • some of your workers have medical reasons why they cannot be vaccinated.

However, ultimately whether you should require your workers to be vaccinated will depend on the particular circumstances at the time you are undertaking your risk assessment. 

Some factors you should consider on an ongoing basis include:

  • Is the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee recommending COVID-19 vaccinations for all workers in your industry? 
  • Will your workers be exposed to the risk of infection as part of their work? For example, hotel quarantine workers will be at higher risk of exposure when their work duties place them in contact with people who may be infected with COVID-19.
  • 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. 
  • 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 risk of infection, 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.

More information on the meaning of reasonably practicable is available on the small business page and in the guide: How to determine what is reasonably practicable to meet a health and safety duty.

Get advice 

You should get advice if you are considering requiring your workers to be vaccinated. There are lots of issues to think about - workplace relations, discrimination and privacy issues will also be relevant. Talk to your WHS regulator, the Fair Work Ombudsman, your employer organisation or other legal service before implementing any vaccination policy or program in your workplace.  

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. For more information, go to the public health orders page.

Workers, customers and vaccinations

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

It is unlikely that WHS laws require you to ask customers and visitors for proof of vaccination. However, you might still want to require this as a condition of entry to your premises. Before you take action to impose this kind of requirement, you should seek advice as there may be privacy and discrimination issues that apply. 

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 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 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.

There is no reason why workers who are currently attending workplaces with other people should stop doing so because of the vaccine rollout. Over time we will learn more about the effectiveness of the vaccines and whether they can stop transmission of the virus. For vulnerable workers, you should continue to implement other working arrangements where you reasonably can, such as working from home.

You should also talk to your workers to understand their concerns and assure them that you are continuing to implement all other control measures which are known to reduce the spread of the virus in the workplace, such as physical distancing, good hygiene and increased cleaning. These measures must remain in place, even if your workers are vaccinated. 

Will I be held liable under WHS laws if I don’t make my workers get vaccinated and one of them gets COVID-19?

There is currently insufficient evidence about the impact of COVID-19 vaccines on transmission of the virus which means that it may be possible for a worker to get COVID-19 even if they are vaccinated. It is therefore unlikely that you have breached model WHS laws simply because you don’t require your workers to get vaccinated. More information on compliance and enforcement of WHS laws during the pandemic is available is available on the Statement of Regulatory Intent page.

A safe and effective COVID-19 vaccination is one part of keeping the Australian community safe and you can encourage your workers to get vaccinated, if they can. But you must continue to implement all reasonably practicable control measures in your workplace, such as physical distancing, good hygiene and regular cleaning and maintenance. Your workers should not come to work if they are unwell – even if they are vaccinated. 

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 only one part of keeping the Australian community safe. You must continue to implement all reasonably practicable control measures in your workplace, such as such as physical distancing, good hygiene and increased cleaning and maintenance

You must also conduct a risk assessment to determine whether particular working arrangements should be put in place for workers who cannot be vaccinated. You should take into account the worker’s specific characteristics, the nature of your workplace and the type of work the worker performs. More information can be found on the vulnerable workers page. 
 

What about my obligations under workers’ compensation laws?

Under workers’ compensation laws workers may be entitled to workers’ compensation if they contract COVID-19 while at work, regardless of how they contracted it. 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 is available on the workers’ compensation page.