Kazuo ota

COVID-19 vaccine information and resources

Getting vaccinated isn’t just about ‘not catching COVID’, as critically important as that is.

It’s about reclaiming our old lives; the things we once took for granted.

Meeting grandchildren, hugging your mum, catching up with friends.

It’s about music festivals, first dates and dancefloor introductions.

It’s about an end to home-schooling, and hitting the open road.

It’s about safety, certainty, security and regaining control over your life.

It’s about moving away from ‘crisis mode’, so we can get busy building the future we all want.

 

Video slide

Back To The Good Things

Getting vaccinated for COVID-19 will help keep us safe. But just as importantly, it will allow us to get back to the things we love. Back to the good things.

 


Vaccine engagement HQ

Original resources produced by VCOSS members to support Victoria’s COVID-19 vaccination program.

 

Video resources

Title Produced Usage
‘Back To The Good Things’ TVC
Open source pro-vaccination video message from Victoria’s community sector
VCOSS No restrictions. Free to use.
Goodbye COVID
Available in 20 languages
North West Melbourne PHN No restrictions. Free to use.
‘Are there vaccine side effects?’
Short video for social media. 
VCOSS No restrictions
‘How to argue with an anti vaxxer’
Short video for social media. 
VCOSS No restrictions
Vaccine explainer
(Dinka/Thuɔŋjäŋ)
BCHS No restrictions
Vaccine explainer
(Dari/دری)
BCHS No restrictions
Vaccine explainer
(Karen/ကညီကျိၥ်)
BCHS No restrictions
Vaccine ‘Q and A’
(Karen/ကညီကျိၥ်)
BCHS No restrictions
‘When you’re ready, VAHS will be ready!’
Video campaign
VAHS Free to share

Printed and online resources

Title Produced Usage
Going to the GP to get my vaccine – social script AMAZE No restrictions
Going to a Mass Vaccination Centre – social script AMAZE No restrictions
7 tips for having ‘the vaccine conversation’ with family and friends YACVIC No restrictions
Vaccine explained (Dinka/Thuɔŋjäŋ) BCHS No restrictions
Vaccine explained (Dari/دری) BCHS No restrictions
Vaccine explained (Karen/ကညီကျိၥ်) BCHS No restrictions

 

Audio resources

Title Produced Usage
Coming soon.    

 

Upcoming events

Please check back later

Video recordings and transcripts of past events (‘Vaccinating Victoria’) are available below.

 

Supported by


Vaccinating Victoria

A rolling briefing series providing critical information about the COVID-19 vaccine program.

Only the most recent VCOSS Vaccinating Victoria session is available. This is due to the speed and frequency of changes in the advice.

This briefing about Victoria’s worker vaccine mandate was recorded live on Tuesday 12th October, featuring:

  1. Brigid Monagle 
    Deputy Secretary, Victorian Department of Families, Fairness and Housing.
  2. Melissa Scadden 
    Partner, law firm Justitia
  3. Kelly Ralph 
    Senior Associate, law firm Justitia

Download Brigid Monagle’s slides here.

What's in this video?

00:00 – Introduction by VCOSS CEO Emma King
02:19 – Key directions of the Public Health Order
06:27 – Does the mandate apply to all of Victoria?
07:19 – Does the mandate apply to volunteers?
08:09 – Employer obligations
09:00 – Community sector impacted workers
09:57 – Exemptions
10:53 – Exceptions
12:20 – Q&A with Brigid Monagle
18:43 – Timescales to meet the mandate requirements
26:46 – Introduction from Justitia
30:33 – Implementing the mandate in the workplace
33:26 – Does the mandate have an expiry date?
34:20 – Privacy laws
35:48 – My employee doesn’t want to get vaccinated
41:36 – Do we have to comply given the current expiry date?
43:25 – Alternative to termination of employer contract?
45:05 – Understanding how your employees are feeling
46:24 – Recruiting new employees
47:54 – Is it lawful to ask for proof of vaccination?
49:38 – Fraudulent vaccine certificates
51:17 – Requesting vaccination status of clients
53:24 – Can an employee go on sick leave?
54:50 – Closing remarks from Emma King

Full transcript

Emma King: Good morning, and welcome to the very latest in our “Vaccinating Victoria” briefing series. My name’s Emma King, I’m the CEO of the Victorian Council of Social Service. And it is fantastic to have you with us today. I’d like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land. I’m on the land of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation, and would like to pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging, and to any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are with us today. I’d also like to acknowledge that sovereignty was never ceded.
Now, today is all about the Victorian Government’s worker vaccine mandate. It’s a very big issue and we’ve only got one hour together. So we’re going to make sure that we jump straight into it today. We’re really fortunate today to have fantastic speakers. And briefly, we are going to have a short presentation from Brigid Monagle. Brigid will be well known to many of you. She’s a deputy secretary for the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing, which I may have got around slightly the wrong way. Brigid will explain the public health order itself, and she will take your questions about its scope and its intent.
Following that, there’s going to be a short session with Melissa Scadden and Kelly Ralph, two senior lawyers from the law firm, the workplace law firm, Justitia. They’ll take us through some of the complexities of actually implementing the public health orders, and how they interrelate with various workplace policies and with legislation. And one final thing before we get started, a huge thank you to the over 100 of you who’ve sent in questions in the lead up to today’s webinar. It’s fantastic to get those. We’ve consolidated them and we’ve sent them through to the presenters for today. You also have the opportunity to ask questions during today through the Slido app that you’ll have seen on your screen, you know, in the lead into today. So we do encourage you to ask questions, but please do keep in mind, we’ve got over 500 people on the webinar today, which is great, but it may mean that we don’t get a chance to get to everyone’s question. So please do be patient with us. If we’re not able to answer your questions today, we will do our best to follow up afterwards and get that information to you as soon as we can.
So with all of that said, it’s my absolute pleasure to welcome Brigid Monagle, very warm and sincere welcome. And I’ll hand over to you Brigid. Thank you so much.

Brigid Monagle: Thank you so much, Emma. Good morning, everyone. My name is Brigid Monagle and as Emma said correctly, I am from the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing. I would also like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we all meet from today. I’m on more Wurundjeri country as well. I’d like to pay my respects to elders past and present.
I’m going to share my screen now so I can take you through this presentation. And I’m hoping that that works for everyone. Please, Emma, yell out if you can’t see that. As Emma said, I’m here to talk about the directions and what the scope and the intent and some clarifying detail of that that has come up through questions that we’ve received from yourselves, but also from other forums that I’ve been attending over the past few days. And so a lot of the questions now, as people start to get their head around the intent and scope is landing in the sort of employment and implementation front. And I feel very lucky to have Melissa and Kelly here to answer questions on that front. But without further ado, we don’t have much time. I’m just going to click over to the next slide. I’ve got a few key points and I’m looking forward to questions from you as well.
So the key part of the directions is that employers must collect, record and hold vaccination information for their workers who are working outside their ordinary place of residence. Now that’s a really important point. So there’s a long list of different workforces that this applies to. And I’ll put the link where that is in the chat of you all. But currently, and this is the way the directions are written. It’s only required that those workers meet the vaccination timelines if they’re working outside their ordinary place of residence.
So for example, I’m an authorized worker, ’cause I’m a public servant, but I work from my home. So currently there’s no requirement that my employer collects data about me. Now, there is a question though about different employers, and whether and how they are collecting that data. And so it might be that employers, certain employers, are thinking, “Well, actually we have a roster system. So some people who might not work ordinary, work working outside of home at the moment, might in a week’s time.” And so there’s some of the issues that are being ironed out. But if you are to say, “I’m an admin officer who works from home,” this requirement doesn’t necessarily, as it’s written at the moment, require you to submit your vaccination data. I would say that the timing is really important here. So the vaccination, this direction came into effect last week. And it will exist until the CHO deems that this direction is not required. This has caused a little bit of confusion. Because in the direction itself, it has an end date of the 21st of October.
Now it’s really important to note that this is all the directions end on the 21st of October and it’s to do with the legislation under the state of emergency. So from midnight on the 22nd of October, the directions will be renewed again. And this will be, in all likelihood, extended for another four weeks. And that’s the length of time that the state of emergency can be extended. So while some people were asking, “Well, maybe I’ll, you know, just sit it out and wait for the direction to stop.” This direction might be enduring and so it’s really important that we think about it as a longer term direction.
Another question that’s come through is does this apply to all of Victoria? And the answer is, yes. So there’s been quite a lot of confusion in that ’cause it’s being tied to the authorized workers list. And currently, that only applies in Metro Melbourne. What does it mean for my regional staff? That the way that the directions’ written, while it includes the same list of categories of staff or workers, it’s not tied to the list and it applies across the whole state. So just say you are a child protection worker who works outside your home, in Shepparton, this would apply to you, and it does apply to the organizations that you work for. So that’s a really important point and I’m keen to get that message out. ‘Cause I would hate for regional employers and employees to be caught on the hop.
A really important question that we’ve had a lot through is how does this apply to volunteers? And it includes volunteers. So it includes paid staff, unpaid staff, potentially like interns and volunteers. So if you work in an organization that has volunteers that work outside their ordinary place of residence, then this does apply to you as well. So, if you have volunteers in your own employment, you have to get the vaccination details of your volunteers. Now that will employ, off the top of my head, I know that there’s a lot of volunteer organizations out there, but you know, anyone who’s providing COVID relief at the moment, food deliveries, it could potentially include those people. So that’s a really important point as well.
One of the key, I’ll get on to exemptions in the next slide, but one of the key points is that obligations on employers, is that they need to notify their staff as soon as practicable around these requirements. And so if you haven’t already, as an employer, you need to let your staff know that this is going to apply to them. So I would encourage you to do that. We are preparing a template that you could apply for your staff if you haven’t already, and that we will be circulating as soon as we can get sign off and get it all perfect, well, not perfect, but get it as good as possible. We’ll send out the guidance as soon as we possibly can.
I’ll just pop onto the next slide, and it’s got a list. So with this forum, we’ve got a list here of likely groups, and I really encourage you to go onto the directions and have a look and make sure that your specific work group is included or not included. I mean, a good sort of test is if you have had to have a permit to leave the house and work, then in all likelihood, your workforce has been included. So it includes community workers, public sector employees, religious workers, but not a person who conducts the service, marriage or a funeral, social and community workers, care workers. An important point though, is if you’re a foster carer and you work in your own home, you’re not required. It’s only if you work outside your ordinary place of residence. Support and welfare workers and emergency services workers. And like I’ve said before, it includes paid, unpaid and volunteer staff. There are of course the exception though.
So first of all, going back to the first slide. So it’s about when you’re recording data, you might have staff members who have a medical exemption from getting a vaccination. And so the key thing you need to record for those staff members, is that you have seen their medical exemption. And there is a list in the Q and A’s, which I’ll circulate too, that talk about what can be accepted as an their medical exemption. And generally it’s like a sick certificate, so that you get it from your GP or your midwife, that you are exempt from getting the vaccination. And so that can suffice. And those people who have medical exemptions are still able to work outside their ordinary place of residence. That’s fine. We just need to record that they have that exemption.
Then there are exceptions. It gets a bit confusing. That if there is an emergency situation, and critical unforeseen instances, you are able to put a person out, require them to work outside their ordinary place of residence, if it’s an exceptional and specific circumstances. So if a worker is responding to an emergency, if you’ve got urgent care or continuation of essential operations due to an emergency. So there are a few options there as well. A lot of the questions and once you sort of work out this scope, do then go into, well, what do I do with a staff member who refuses to get vaccinated? Or what are my options if I don’t want to get vaccinated? And that is where we’ve got Melissa and Kelly who will able to answer those questions later. But look, I might pause there and go into questions if that’s okay, Emma?

Emma King: Thanks so much, Brigid. It is. And if I can also just, for people, can you please remember to put your questions in Slido because it’s so much easier for us to see them. And if you could not put them in the chat, that would be really helpful. Because we’re seeing a series of questions come through the chat, it’s a bit tricky to try and keep up with those. If you can put them through Slido, that would be fantastic. Now, one of the first questions that we’ve got, Brigid and they are definitely all coming through, is can we request that our clients also be vaccinated if they would like a face-to-face service?

Brigid Monagle: I would prefer to take that one on notice just to make sure that I’m not providing the wrong advice, but I would say, that there are currently no directions that require clients to be vaccinated. Whether an organization can require that or not, I think I would have to take that one on notice.

Emma King: Yeah. Thanks Brigid. And so we’ll make sure as well that we get back to people on the calls, ’cause I think there’s been a few questions come through along those lines. The next question goes to how does the mandate apply to those who only need to come in as a kind of one-stop in the workplace? So there’s a question about, is there a space where the measures need to be proportionate?

Brigid Monagle: That’s a really interesting question. And as it stands, if a person needs to leave the ordinary places of residence and go on to a workplace or go to someone, at a client’s house, then they’re required to be vaccinated. Even if it is a one-off. Whether it is proportionate or not, that is a genuine topic for discussion.

Emma King: Thank you. And in terms of looking at, say hirers and therefore user groups, I guess I’m thinking of something like, I’m assuming like a neighborhood house or others are coming to use a facility that’s already there. Do they need to provide evidence of vaccination in order to be able to use the space?

Brigid Monagle: Sorry, do you mean Emma? Do you mean, like the client?

Emma King: Yes, or for example, and I guess I’m drawing from the question here. Somewhere like a neighborhood house, it’s got a space that might be used by a group in the community over the weekend or et cetera. Do people need to show their vaccination status in order to be able to use that space in a community service organization?

Brigid Monagle: Yeah, look, as we move through the roadmap and we get into the world where people are able to go and use community spaces again, then there will be, I imagine, rules about what the vaccination requirements are for those community groups. I’m not across that at the moment, but that will become clear as we get closer to that 26th of October date for the 70 double vax.

Emma King: Thanks, Brigid. There’s a question here, it’s around what are the penalties? So it’s looking at what are the penalties if staff don’t comply with vaccination? So I just want to acknowledge to the person who asked the question, they do go to a certain group, but I think that it would be a broader question about what are the penalties for organizations if the staff don’t comply with the vaccination.

Brigid Monagle: Yeah. Look, that’s a really good question. I should have put that in the slide, sorry. So there’s kind of two sets of, penalty is the wrong word, but essentially the employer is held accountable for collecting and recording and what’s the other word, collecting, recording and holding vaccination information. So if an authorized officer comes in and says, “Can I see that information?” Then the employer will be held accountable for having that as a complete and up-to-date list. Now, then it becomes a question of, so what happens to the employee? So, that would get into the space that I think Melissa and Kelly would cover in terms of the penalties or the options for an employer, if an employer somehow manages to lie or not provide accurate information. Or an employee says, “No, I don’t want to do it.” If an employer then knows very well that someone doesn’t have a vaccination, knows that it’s not an emergency situation and still requires them, then the authorized officer would be able to apply penalties to the employer.

Emma King: Yeah. Thank you. And would you be able to clarify what you mean by religious leaders or those who conduct the service are exempt? So it’s wanting to, I guess the question goes to does it mean that they don’t need to be vaccinated?

Brigid Monagle: It means that they. So look, first of all, I’ll say, we’ve sought specific clarification from public health about this, just because it’s really important that we have this quite right. But so at the moment, faith groups are allowed to have, I think it’s five people at any one time to record a faith service. So assuming, you know, there’s one priest, say, I’m Catholic, so I’ll use this is my best example, but you’ve got one priest, but you’ve got four people there who are recording the service. The four people there recording the service would need to provide their vaccination data to attend, but the priest wouldn’t need to.

Emma King: Okay. Thank you. And is it reasonable to seek a copy of the digital certificate for, oh, hang on, I can see this as a continued question. So I might come back. I think this person given examples, but I can’t see them. So bear with me. I’m going to go back and see if I can track that one. So can you confirm that people who’ve got a medical exemption are able to continue to work outside the home and onsite?

Brigid Monagle: Yeah. So, that’s in the directions.

Emma King: Yep. Thanks.

Brigid Monagle: Yeah.

Emma King: Thanks for that. And, sorry, as the questions are coming through, bare with me as I’m looking this way. So do the public health orders apply to underage volunteers? So for example, can a workplace require someone who’s under the age of 18, to be vaccinated and to collect their information?

Brigid Monagle: That is a very good question. I’ll take that one on notice.

Emma King: Fantastic. Thank you. And sorry, Brigid, I feel like I’m throwing question after question at you-

Brigid Monagle: No, no, it’s all good.

Emma King: And this, may be one you might want to defer, I’m not sure in terms of, but there’s a question around, can a worker refuse to work with non-vaccinated clients face to face?

Brigid Monagle: Yeah. I would have to take that one on notice.

Emma King: Thank you. And in terms of this, a request here around the clarification, so would you mind just clarifying again, the dates, of which pre required?

Brigid Monagle: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And there’s a few different dates so it gets really confusing. So, all workers who work outside their ordinary place of residence need to have their first vaccine dose by Friday, 15th of October. So that is this Friday. But, they can continue to work onsite between the 15th and the 22nd, if they have a booking of a vaccination before the 22nd of October. This is on the website, so I’ll link it to the website. So that’s the first dose. So essentially, you either have to have your first dose by the 15th of October, or you need a booking that happens before the 22nd of October. Then the second dose is the 26th of November. You have to have your second dose by then.

Emma King: Fantastic. Thank you. There’s a question here as well about wandering how employers can validate what might look like suspicious vaccine certificates.

Brigid Monagle: That’s an interesting question. I think Melissa and Kelly might be better placed to answer that than me. We’ve also had a few questions in different forums about sort of the medical exemptions as well. So either suspicious vaccination certificates or suspicious medical exemptions. So, we might ask. Yeah, if we go to Kelly and Melissa, but also too, I mentioned that there’ll be some more guidance coming out about that.

Emma King: Fantastic. Thank you. And I’ll just quickly remind people again, if you can use the Slido app rather than putting questions in the chat. ‘Cause from a Slido app, that would be great. Thank you. Another question about volunteer board members. So, if they’re on site, are they’re required to be vaccinated?

Brigid Monagle: That’s right. Yeah. We had the same question yesterday in another forum. Technically it applies to them, but I would imagine that for a lot of boards you could do it from your home, so it might not need to. So it really is about whether you’re requiring people to work outside their home.

Emma King: Yep. Fantastic. Thank you. And in terms of the dates that you outlined in response to a couple of questions beforehand, there’s a question about whether do those dates apply to staff who are on leave at the moment?

Brigid Monagle: So it applies to all staff. But if staff are on leave and you’re not requiring to work outside the residence, then you have more time to get the information.

Emma King: Yeah. Thank you. And in terms of, do you have advice for employees that refuse to be vaccinated? Or again, is that something you’d like to defer to the next session?

Brigid Monagle: Yeah. Yeah.

Emma King: Thank you. And can a workplace require volunteers or workers provide a negative COVID test before attending the workplace?

Brigid Monagle: I’m not sure. I don’t think that that’s anything under directions at the moment, but it might be possible to do it at an organizational level. Again, one we’ll take on notice.

Emma King: Yep. Thank you. And possibly intersects with you being in an exposure site and those sorts of things as well. I think this might be an important point of clarification ’cause it seems to have come through a few times. So someone said that, “The state of emergency will seize on those the 16th of the 12th 21, no mandates can exist after this date.” But you did touch on this at the beginning to say, “Well, actually, in terms of looking at the fact that this extends beyond the state of emergency. So given there’s a couple of questions coming, would you mind just repeating that point? That would be great. Thank you.

Brigid Monagle: No, and that’s a really good question. ‘Cause everyone may, some people may or may not remember that the state of emergency got an extension for six months it ceases on the 16th or the 15th of December. And technically what that person says is correct. After that point in time, if there isn’t a replacement legislative vehicle, then everything in the public health directions will cease to exist. So that includes social quarantine, you know? So something needs to replace it. And the government is working on what will replace or what will happen after that. So I think it would be a very risky manoeuvre to assume that something will stop, cease like it will just end on that date. It could. The CHO might decide otherwise, but there will be something post that date, if that makes sense.

Emma King: It does. Thank you. And thanks ’cause there’s been a few questions, so great clarification. This is something I think we talked about the other day Brigid, which is around, will there be a template available to send out to volunteers with sort of information and correct wording, et cetera as well?

Brigid Monagle: Yeah. Yeah. Look, we’ve been working really hard and Jesse in our team has been working hard to prep that comms, we’re really hoping to send it out today.

Emma King: Oh, fantastic. That would be great. When that’s available. And here’s another question around, is there any advice around the application of the mandate to contractors? So thinking about firstly, a sole contractor, maybe a head contractor, those sorts of things.

Brigid Monagle: Yeah. It applies to contractors as well. Yeah. So if they’re attending onsite, it applies.

Emma King: Thank you. And a question, which I think might be your last one, Brigid. I know we’ve been hammered sort of during the session, as I know you’ve been in others. We might be able to fit it in an extra one. What if staff are currently quarantining as a primary close contact of a positive case? There’s a question that’s saying, you know, I don’t think they can be vaccinated during this period. So then how does the supply to them?

Brigid Monagle: There is actually a carve-out in the direction for people who are under those requirements. I’m not an expert on that carve-out but it definitely sits there. So I’d encourage people to go and look at that about, there’s a whole exception on self-quarantine, which is clause 4,5 in the direction. So it does have facilities in there. Yeah.

Emma King: Fantastic. Thank you. And so, as you say it has facilities there that means that people can get vaccinated or it means it as in, they don’t have to?

Brigid Monagle: It means that as long as they have a booking to receive within seven days of the end of their self-quarantine, then they will be able to work outside the ordinary place of residence.

Emma King: Right. Thank you much appreciated. Now I think there might be a few questions coming through. As I’ve mentioned beforehand, we’ve got nearly 500 people online. So bear with us as people are kind of looking for all the questions. There’s another question there saying, “Will this mandate cover future booster shots?”

Brigid Monagle: Currently, it doesn’t. So there is all the potential in the world that it would, but that would require a change to the directions.

Emma King: Yeah. Fantastic. Brigid, a huge thank you for your time. We’ve pretty much hit 10:30. We’re going to flip over to the justice session. I just want to say a very sincere thank you to you. I’m not sure whether you’re staying with us for the remainder of the session or not.

Brigid Monagle: I’m really keen to hear what Kelly and Melissa have to say.

Emma King: Yep. That’s brilliant. So thank you. And just a huge, thanks. I know for those on the line, you know, when the public health orders came out literally overnight, Brigid met with us incredibly quickly the following day, just to make sure she could answer everything possible. And then shortly afterwards is with us all today. So wanting to make sure that we get as much information out to you as quickly as possible. But Brigid, I do really want to acknowledge the fantastic work that you and your team have done to get on top of this as quickly as humanly possible. Really, really do appreciate it. So, thank you.

Brigid Monagle: No worries. And we really understand how hard this is for organizations. It’s such a big change and happening very quickly. So anything we can do to help.

Emma King: Much appreciated Brigid. And I’m sure we’re going to do many more sessions with you and great that you’re able to stay on for this section as well. So a huge thank you, Brigid. So Brigid and her team stick with us. But we’re now going to shift across to, I guess, the implementation of these new arrangements. You know, so how does this affect other employer requirements that you might have? What do you do with a staff member who refuses to comply with the vaccine requirements? All good questions for workplace lawyers. So on that note, so again, please join with me in welcoming Melissa and Kelly from Justitia Law Firm, who will also take your questions, as well as provide an overview. So thank you, Melissa and Kelly.

Melissa Scadden: Great. Thank you so much, Emma. And thank you to VCOSS for inviting us to join you all again this morning to discuss a particularly current topic of mandatory vaccines in the workplace in light of these new health orders. I’d just like to start by quickly also acknowledging the traditional owners of the land in which we meet. I’m also on Wurundjeri land of the Kulin nation. And I would like to pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging.
Now look, when we joined you earlier in the year to discuss this topic, it’s safe to say it was a very different landscape. There was no community transmission. So the risk of COVID in most workplaces was actually quite low. At that point, they weren’t any public health orders mandating vaccines. So the question of whether an employer could mandate vaccines themselves in the workplace related to whether it was a lawful and reasonable direction for a particular employee or group of employees. Now this required a risk assessment to determine whether or not mandatory vaccines could be considered a reasonably practicable means of reducing or eliminating the risk of COVID in a workplace, which is in accordance with an employer’s Work Health and Safety obligations. Now at that time, in many circumstances where the risk of COVID was low, where other control measures such as social distancing, PPE, snap lockdowns, could adequately control the risk.
Mandatory vaccines might not have been a reasonably practicable measure, nor reasonable direction. Now, if we fast forward six months, a lot happens in six months, and we are in a vastly different situation. So not only is this risk assessment very different. We now have an array of public health orders, which mandate vaccine in certain industries. Now this most recent health order, which Brigid has just discussed, is perhaps the most far reaching. As it applies to many, many workers, over a million workers who will be working outside their primary place of residence. Many employers are now grappling with how to deal with the, apply these employees in their workplace. I saw many, many questions that were flying through there. So we’ll really try and get to as many as possible.
What we’ll do is we’ll start off by discussing a lot that have been submitted online. And I think that we’ll find that many of those will answer some of the ones that we’ve received so far. And then we’ll go through and try and answer ones on Slido as well. Before I do launch in though and put Kelly in the spotlight, it is worth mentioning that when it comes to employment, we can apply principles, we can apply legislation, and in many circumstances, these health orders can provide a certain level of certainty, but it’s still really important to consider the individual facts. And be wary of applying organization-wide policies or even these health orders without exception. Because as you can see from these orders, there are exceptions. When you look at the unfair dismissal legislation, for example, the commission is required to look at all the facts in a particular circumstance. So although we hope that the principles discussed here are helpful, please do ensure that you are still considering the specific facts of your own situation or the situation of your workers. And if in doubt, please do seek advice.
Now, wary of the time and the number of questions we will launch in and I’ll pass over to Kelly. We’ve had a lot about recent health orders in the recent months and most apply to specific sectors or industries, but have this health order, if we can delve in a little bit deeper, I know Brigid touched this, but who does it impact? Who is a worker for the purposes of these directions?

Kelly Ralph: And certainly that’s a great starting point. So a worker is broadly defined, and means a person who falls into one of the worker specific definitions in the directions. And includes employees, subcontractors, and the subcontractor’s employees, volunteers, as Brigid told us. And importantly, I think any other person engaged or permitted by an employer to perform work. And obviously, that could extend quite far. And there’s a question we have that we’ll answer a bit later on that deals with a specific type of employee.
Now, as Brigid told us, the directions apply to all workers required to perform work outside of their usual place of residence, on or after the 15th of October, within Victoria, including Regional Victoria. Until the directions expire or are renewed. And as Brigid said, I would be surprised if there wasn’t some means of extending these, but we do need to bear in mind that there is a current expiry date on the current directions. And I’ll touch on that more as we go through the questions. And this does include employees who only very occasionally need to perform work outside their usual place of residence.
So even if it’s a one-off, a vaccination will be required, I note that there were numerous questions asked before today’s session and where the particular workers, and in one case, for example, course facilitators, can be required to be vaccinated. If, and this is how we explain or how we understand the broadness of this concept. Essentially, if the course facilitator is a person engaged by the employer to perform work, then yes, that person is required to be vaccinated. The definition is I think, intentionally broad to cover workers in connection with the worker specific directions. Sorry, the worker specific definitions in the directions. The employer will need to have some ability to inform the worker that they have obligations under the directions, and ensure those workers who are unvaccinated do not perform work outside of the worker’s home.

Melissa Scadden: Great. Thanks Kelly. And another question, and again, this was touched on by Brigid, but I think that there’s still some questions coming through about, a little bit uncertainty. So, does this mandate have an expired date? Which we’ve spoken about, by the 21st of October. And given what we’ve heard in terms of it’s expected to be extended, what does this mean?

Kelly Ralph: So, essentially, it is expected. Well, as Brigid tells us, that there will be an extension to the emergency powers and it’s those powers that enable the health directions to be made. As a result, they may be replacement or renewed directions. And we’ve been seeing this with many of the other directions issued by the chief health officer. And it is possible that replacement directions will still require specific workers to be vaccinated to work on site.
We’ve also been asked, Melissa, whether these orders conflict with privacy and equal opportunity laws. Privacy laws require employers to get consent from workers to collect health information. The mandatory vaccination directions specifically provide that employers must collect vaccination information. However, employers should also consider providing workers with what we call a collection statement and consult with workers to explain why they are collecting the vaccination information, how it will be used, and when it may be disclosed. And that the directions themselves help you answer these questions.
You can’t force your workers to provide vaccination information, but employers must report the workers vaccination status as unvaccinated if a worker refuses to provide this information. Equal opportunity legislation prevents employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of an attribute, such as religious belief or activity, or because of a disability or health issue or illness, that type of thing. And that’s obviously where we’re seeing a lot of objections to being vaccinated coming from. But essentially, discrimination will be lawful if the employer is complying with the Victorian government directions.

Melissa Scadden: Thanks Kelly. So look, I think now we’ll probably launch into the question that I would imagine, is on the top of many people’s lips, but basically what is an employer meant to do if a worker basically chooses not to be vaccinated?

Kelly Ralph: This is certainly the question of the moment, I think Mel. As a general principle, if an employee is unable to perform what we call the inherent requirements of the job, there is a valid raising for terminating the employment. So if an employee is refusal to be vaccinated means they’re unable to attend the workplace and they can’t work from home, then it’s likely that there is a valid reason to terminate their employment. But a termination will still be challenged on the grounds that it’s otherwise, may still be challenged on the grounds that it’s otherwise unfair.
There might be a number of reasons why employers may want to proceed with caution before immediately deciding to terminate employment on the basis of these health orders. So not withstanding that Brigid noted the orders are likely to be extended. The current directions expire on the 21st of October. Given the date in which workers are unable to work outside the home. If they’re not either vaccinated or booked into receive a vaccination by the 15th of October, it is then only really a period of six days where an employer knows that the worker will be unable to perform the inherent requirements of the job. So even assuming that the current health orders are extended or renewed once the state of emergency powers are extended again, we don’t know how long they’ll be in force for. And so, while it’s possible, they’ll continue to apply to all workers, who are required, it’s possible they will continue to apply to all workers required to work outside their ordinary place of residence.
As Victoria starts to open up in accordance with the road map, that list of workers might become a lot longer than the current list of authorized workers. It’s unclear whether this is the intention of the government or whether it’s more of a temporary measure to reduce movement and mixing of unvaccinated people from now until we hit those important targets in the roadmap, in the face of this uncertainty, we think terminating employment solely on the basis of the public health directions, particularly in circumstances where a period of leave, say whether unpaid or paid leave is a possible alternative, then it may not be prudent to jump straight to termination.
We think though that employers do have some obligations under health and safety legislation to do what is reasonably practicable to reduce or eliminate the risks in the workplace. We covered this in detail on a previous webinar. So I won’t go into it in too much detail. But when it comes to the risk of COVID in the workplace, this involves undertaking a risk assessment of factors. Those factors include the likelihood that employees will catch COVID, the degree of harm that will arise if they do, the availability and suitability of means to eliminate the risk. And so if following a risk assessment, an employer decides that mandating vaccines for all or part of their work force is a reasonably practical measure of reducing the risk of COVID, it might decide to introduce a policy. If an employee refuses to comply with the policy, then termination might result because of that failure to follow the lawful and reasonable direction in that policy.
I know, it’s quite a long answer to this question, but I understand it’s probably one of the main questions you’ve all got. So, I’ll keep going through my thought process on this. If an employer is considering terminating employment at this stage, because an employee is unvaccinated, then we would recommend also undergoing this risk assessment. And you should do so in consultation with your employee to ensure that any requirement to be vaccinated can be justified on health and safety grounds, rather than solely relying on the health direction. This will put employers in a better position to defend a termination if it’s challenged. And be able to demonstrate, importantly, that the termination’s not harsh, unjust or unreasonable.
There is an alternative to dismissal and we recommend employers put unvaccinated employees on a period of paid or unpaid leave. The national employment standards require employers and employees to agree when paid leave will be taken. Employers should discuss the situation with employees, try and agree on the best form of leave, which might be unpaid. And that too need to be negotiated with the employee. Employees can also take long service leave. And while employers can give a direction in certain circumstances to employees to take that long service leave, it does usually require 12 week notice period. And unfortunately, that’s not very practical at this point in time. I know some of you are also asking about terminating contractors or possibly volunteer agreements, and this might be easier than terminating a true employee. And this will depend on the terms of your agreement with the contractor or a volunteer.

Melissa Scadden: Great. Thanks, Kelly. So we do have a couple of questions that are coming in that are relevant to this. So I think it probably be a good time to actually address them now. One of the questions is basically, so if workers are not expected to work onsite until after October 21st, can we wait until the renewed directions to collect information? So essentially saying, look, given, we’ve got this expiring date on the directions. Can we just, wait, do we have to comply with them now?

Kelly Ralph: I think you do need to collect and hold the information. And essentially it will come down to if you can’t get any information or your employees are unvaccinated, then they simply won’t be able to perform work outside their ordinary residence.

Melissa Scadden: Yeah, that’s exactly right. So look, I know we’re talking about the fact that there’s an expired date and so it does provide a level of uncertainty. And so that’s why, even though we are expecting, as Brigid says, that they will be extended. And even once this state of emergency powers expire in the middle of December, we’re expecting there’ll be some kind of legislative intervention. So they will be something. But I suppose when it comes to actually terminating someone’s employment, there is still quite a bit of uncertainty about what that something is, what the nature of these health orders will be once they are either renewed or extended after the 21st of October.
So on that basis, that’s why you might want to exercise caution rather than going straight to termination, and exploring some other options and ensuring that you are looking at that risk assessment as well. But despite that you still need to comply with the orders as they currently stand. And I think it’s really important that we do emphasize that. And recognizing that there will be some restrictions still of some form after the 21st of October, as Brigid pointed out. Another question Kelly is, in terms of the alternatives, can we stop short of termination? Could we just give a disciplinary letter instead? I think Kelly you’re frozen. You still there?

Kelly Ralph: I think that’s also I’m sorry, I’m having a bit of a lag. Yes.

Melissa Scadden: No problem. Do you want me to? I’ll jump in and answer this question and we’ll see if this internet connection stabilizes after that stage. So yeah, so there are definitely some alternatives to termination. So as we said, you can explore the leave. Can you look at disciplinary action that stops short of termination? Yes, absolutely. There is no requirements, and it’s important to make this clear. There is no requirement to terminate someone’s employment if they’re not vaccinated. The requirement under the health orders are to collect, hold and store this information. And ensure that unvaccinated people who have not fall within the exemptive categories do not attend work onsite.
So yes, please make sure you are talking to your employees, as a starter, talking to them about what the health orders mean, talking about what the options are. And you might look at exploring some other alternatives such as yes, there might be some disciplinary action that ensues, there might be a warning, for example, on the basis that it is basically an inherent requirement of the job that you are vaccinated, that you can attend site, for example, and you can’t attend site unless you’re vaccinated. So if you’re unable to perform inherent requirements of your job, then you possibly look at termination in those circumstances. But certainly looking at the alternatives in that way is highly recommended. I’d also like to say, that it is worth really going through a consultation process with your employees to talk to them and understand their position. I think that sometimes there’s a tendency to assume that anybody who doesn’t want to get vaccinated is an anti-vaxxer. Anyone who’s not vaccinated and has said that they don’t have an intention to is never going to do it. And they’re being unreasonable, et cetera.
We can’t jump to that conclusion. It’s really important to be talking to your workers to understand what their hesitancy is because some people are just terrified for various reasons. They’re just terrified of getting this vaccination. They may have received a lot of misinformation from friends or family or from the internet. And so going through this process, giving them leave to go and speak to their doctor, tryna ensure that they have available to them some, verified health information is absolutely the first step to go through with your employees. Before you look at jumping into any disciplinary action there. And you’re back Kelly? Internet connection?

Kelly Ralph: Sorry about that everybody. At the worst possible time.

Melissa Scadden: I think we’re all used to it by now really, aren’t we? Okay. So there’s another question in terms of recruiting. So we’re just talking a lot about workers that we have already on the books, so to speak. But the question is when recruiting, do we then need to ask the applicant, whether they have had at least one vaccination and when they plan to be fully vaccinated by?

Kelly Ralph: I think that the orders do cover this issue for current and new employees. So, yes, I think it would be prudent to do that. Bearing in mind that if that particular person doesn’t answer the question, you can’t force them to, but again, they won’t be allowed to perform work outside of their ordinary residents. And this may lead you to help you make decisions about recruitment.

Melissa Scadden: Absolutely. And certainly just from a general, I suppose, employment law perspective, employers can make various things conditions of employment. So even outside these health orders, there is certainly an ability of the employer to say for new employees, a condition of employment is going to be that you are fully vaccinated, because of what we consider to be the health safety risks to our workforce. And ensuring that that’s included in both the recruitment processes, as well as in your contract as well. So another question, and I think a lot of people are sort of wondering, there’s been talking about the Privacy Act, and you’ve touched on that. But given it is, I suppose, some private information, is it lawful to ask for proof of vaccination.

Kelly Ralph: In short? Yes. The directions provide that vaccination information includes information about a person’s vaccination status. So fully vaccinated, partially vaccinated, unvaccinated, or whether the person is an excepted person.
And that comes down to whether the person has a medical exemption. And also includes information derived from a record that’s made in accordance with the Australian Immunisation Register Act. And it’s a 2015 piece of legislation. So this information can be recorded in various ways. It might be a letter from your medical practitioner. It might be a certificate of immunization, or an immunization history statement that you could obtain also from the Australian Immunisation Register. An employer may be required, and I think this has been touched on, but may be required to produce this information that it’s collected from its workers under the directions to an authorized officer.
And, as I said before, a worker’s not required to provide proof of vaccination. However, as an employer, you are required to treat such a person as unvaccinated. Unless of course, the worker can prove that they have an exemption or a booking to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. And that obligation also extends to ensuring they do not perform work outside of the workers ordinary place of residence.

Melissa Scadden: Thanks Kelly. Now on that topic of proof of vaccination, there have been a couple of questions about what do we do about the dodgy vaccination certificates that we’re just not quite sure are legit?

Kelly Ralph: Yes. Look, unfortunately, we’ve seen this occur. An employer may be able to query the authenticity of such certificates. I think though, getting that evidence might be difficult. But you know, after you’ve seen a number of certificates, I think you will have an understanding of what doesn’t look quite right. So if you do, as an employer have evidence that a certificate is false, there may be grounds to terminate the employee’s employment. Or that might also allow you to terminate a contract or a volunteer agreement. And that would be on the basis that a worker producing a fraudulent document is in breach of their employment obligations. And in this situation, you wouldn’t need to demonstrate that what you’re requiring under the mandatory vaccinations is valid. It’s simply that there’s a fraud that’s occurred.

Melissa Scadden: And on that Kelly as well, I suppose, noting that there are various ways that you can actually prove your vaccination status. So in terms of the letter from medical practitioner, certificate of immunization, et cetera. I suppose if you feel like one of them is invalid and you’ve got some reasonable grounds to suspect it, you might then talk to your employee about saying, “Well, look, can we get used to actually go and have a chat with your doctor?” For example, and get us ticket from the doctor to verify that you are vaccinated in those circumstances.

Kelly Ralph: Absolutely.

Melissa Scadden: Now, and another question is, and this one, that was touched on earlier and I think Brigid was taking on notice, so she might be able to provide some further clarity as well from that perspective. But certainly, questions about whether or not health workers can request vaccination status of their clients or require clients be vaccinated when meeting face to face.

Kelly Ralph: Look, employers could certainly implement such a policy so to protect their workers, but the directions don’t cover this issue. As an employer, and I’m not sure what the extent that you are able to pick and choose your clients in this type of industry, but you may need to make a decision around that in accordance with potentially losing that business. But, as we mentioned before, employers do have an obligation to ensure the health and safety of their employees. So I think it’s certainly a policy that you could implement just being aware of possible implications of doing so.

Melissa Scadden: Exactly. So certainly is as I suppose, as a general rule, we could say that organizations can choose who they actually engage with in terms of provide services to, but obviously there might be within your own regulatory environment, services agreements, et cetera, further obligations that you’d need to consider and make sure that you’re aware of. But yes, certainly when performing your own risk assessment about the safety of your workplace, that is something that you would need to consider. And understanding whether or not the people you’re providing services to are also vaccinated and what level of risk that applies to your employees and essentially what you can do about that. So certainly something that you’d need to be exploring and looking at what your obligations are in that area. And let’s see if we may have, we might have another couple of quick questions, we’re about to wrap up shortly. Another one that’s come through is, when we’re talking about taking leave as an alternative to termination, can an employee go on sick leave?

Kelly Ralph: No. Uh-uh. I think very bluntly, no. This is slightly off the topic, but in terms of vaccinations, I really think the only time that personal leave or sick leave would be appropriate is where an employee has a reaction to a dose of a COVID vaccine.

Melissa Scadden: Or that acute medical illness exemption.

Kelly Ralph: Yes.

Melissa Scadden: Yeah. So there was that exemption to the requirement to be vaccinated, they treat medical illness, which interestingly isn’t defined, certainly anecdotally we understand acute to be short-lived. So a short-lived medical illness that prevents someone from being vaccinated. So in those circumstances, yes, it’s likely that that might also prevent them from attending to workplace. So allow them to go on sick leave, but you would expect that to be acute and therefore short-lived, so certainly not. Extending beyond the life of these restrictions or as that will become apparent after the health orders are extended. So we’re hitting 10:58. I think that that’s probably our time up.

Emma King: Well, Melissa and Kelly, that was fantastic. And I can just see the number of questions, et cetera, coming through. And like, Brigid, you’ve just done a fantastic job in being able to just get across so many of the questions that are coming through. So a huge thank you to both of you and to Brigid. As you said, Melissa, we’re kind of hitting bang on that 10 o’clock mark. I know a number of people have, and I’m sure you do is you’re probably back to back at the moment with them answering all of these questions. say a huge thank you to Melissa, to Kelly and to Brigid, your generosity is very much appreciated and knowing how quickly people need to get across this information. And there are so many questions to answer.
I did want to reiterate that we are distributing the slides from today. So we’ll send them out to those of you who’ve joined with us. And we will have a copy of this event, which will be fully captioned and transcribed that will be available on our website in a few days as well. So please do check that out and make the most of making sure that you know, you’re welcome to share information, et cetera, because we want to make sure that the correct information is available. Noting of course, that things are changing really rapidly at the moment. And there are a number of issues that we’ll need to get some further advice. So just to kind of check in a little bit more on. So we will send you the link.
And look, have a wonderful day everyone. And thank you again to everyone for participating today. We really appreciate it. Take care and hopefully enjoy some of the sunshine today. Thanks everyone.

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