On 22 December 2021, the Premier announced a third COVID-19 vaccination will be required for workers that come under an existing vaccine mandate. The third vaccination will be required within one month of being eligible for the booster.

The State Government has introduced a policy that will make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for a significant amount of occupations and workplaces in WA.

The mandating of COVID vaccinations is being implemented in a phased approach, with many small businesses likely to require employees to be fully vaccinated by 31 January 2022.

Infographic explaining mandatory COVID-19 vaccination groups and requirements
Mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations summary.

The Chief Health Officer of Western Australia has advised that there are good public health grounds for mandating the COVID-19 vaccine. The Delta strain is far more contagious than previous strains of COVID-19, and there is evidence that it leads to more severe outcomes, including long-term impacts from Long COVID-19.

The vaccination policy is an important measure to keep Western Australians safe, our economy open, and protect the livelihoods of small businesses and their employees.

Which workplaces are impacted?

The workplaces and occupations identified as priorities in the Government’s plan are:

  • Group one: those in which there is high risk to the community of transmission (must be fully vaccinated by 31 December 2021 and receive a booster within one month of becoming eligible), and
  • Group two: those whose operation is deemed critical to keep our economy and community going (fully vaccinated by 31 January 2022 and receive a booster within one month of becoming eligible).

Additionally, employees outside of these categories that are not fully vaccinated may not be able to attend their workplace in the event of a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown, which could prevent them from carrying out their job.

This mandate applies to all businesses from sole traders through to employers of multiple staff, but there are different impacts that may result from the size and complexity of your workplace.

What are my responsibilities?

One of the questions that small business employers are asking is “What am I responsible for and what do I do if an employee doesn’t plan to be vaccinated?”

Based upon the Directions for group one, an employer’s obligations will be as follows.

  • First check if your business falls into the list of workplaces and occupations that the mandate applies to. Health Directions for group one have been published, with other Directions to be issued soon.
  • Where an employer’s designated workplace is covered by a health Direction, the employer will have two main obligations:
    • Only roster or otherwise permit to work at a designated workplace an employee who is vaccinated against COVID-19 or is an exempt person (different dates will apply depending on the workplace and occupation).
    • Collect and securely store a record of the COVID-19 vaccination status of employees, including any evidence of an employee’s approved exemption. It is an offence for a person to fail, without reasonable excuse, to comply with any of the health Directions.

How to manage employee relations

If your business is likely to be impacted by mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations, I encourage you to have a meaningful conversation with your staff about the policy. A suggested communication path for you to follow is:

  • Advise employees in the affected workplace of the health Directions and the requirement to be vaccinated to attend the workplace, including the applicable dates to be vaccinated.
  • Request, collect and keep safe evidence of your employees’ vaccination status (in the form of an immunisation history statement or a COVID-19 digital certificate) and/or exemptions.

It’s important to maintain open channels of communication with your staff throughout this process. Consulting with employees may be required under employment contracts, awards, agreement or employment law, depending on the industrial relations system you fall into.

We have prepared a Mandatory Vaccinations Good Employment Practice Guide to assist you in managing this process, and you can contact our team for advice (please note, our advisers are unable to give legal advice).

The Department of Mines, Industrial Relations and Safety (state industrial relations system) and the Fair Work Ombudsman (national system) have provided further guidance on employment obligations and entitlements related to mandatory vaccinations.

David Eaton
WA Small Business Commissioner

SBDC news
22 December 2021