The Queensland government has announced that from 14 April 2022, vaccination requirements for workers and the public will be removed for a number of venues. These are hospitality venues (pubs, clubs, cafes and restaurants), entertainment venues (theme parks, cinemas, casinos and showgrounds), stadiums, galleries, museums and libraries and weddings.  Vaccination requirements for workers in “high risk settings” are set to continue. These are defined as early childhood, primary and secondary education settings, corrective services facilities, police watch houses and certain areas of airports. They will also continue for any worker in healthcare (which is defined broadly) who enters, works in or performs services in a healthcare setting.

Whilst the Queensland government may be removing some of its vaccination mandate requirements, it is still open to employers to give employees and other workers a lawful and reasonable direction to be vaccinated. Consultation will usually be required before the imposition of a formal direction, at least for industrial award and enterprise agreement covered workers.  The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) has published guidance setting out matters to be considered when determining whether a direction to an employee to be vaccinated against COVID-19 is reasonable which include:
• Workplace Health and Safety obligations;
• the nature of each workplace (for example, the extent to which employees need to work in public facing roles and whether social distancing is possible);
• the availability and effectiveness of other control measures in the workplace (for example, physical distancing, limitations on visitors, ventilation, mask-wearing and testing);
• each employee’s circumstances, including their duties and the risks associated with their work;
• whether employees have a legitimate reason for not being vaccinated (for example, a medical reason).

The FWO has also suggested a 4 tier approach to assessment in each case:
• Tier 1 work, where employees are required as part of their duties to interact with people with an increased risk of being infected with COVID-19;
• Tier 2 work, where employees are required to have close contact with people who are particularly vulnerable to the health impacts of COVID-19;
• Tier 3 work, where there is interaction or likely interaction between employees and other people such as customers, other employees or the public in the normal course of employment;
• Tier 4 work, where employees have minimal face-to-face interaction as part of their normal employment duties (for example, where they are working from home).

The effect of the Queensland government’s removal of mandatory requirements is that each employer will need to decide its own requirements. Practical difficulties may arise where, for instance, vaccinated employees don’t wish to work with unvaccinated workers or where vaccinated customers/clients don’t wish to interact with unvaccinated staff. Another scenario is where an employee contracts COVID-19 at work which may see an increase in workers compensation claims.

We have previously set out the legal avenues open to private sector employees facing employer directions to be vaccinated and that guidance still applies – .Courts and tribunals have, to date, relied largely on public health grounds to uphold employer vaccination directions, subject to appropriate consultation when required. In our view, a considered direction by an employer requiring vaccination is still likely to be considered reasonable in most cases where employees have interactions with other employees and members of the public.

These are of course general comments only and with particular application to Queensland. The directions should be reviewed for their detail. Please contact us if you would like any further information or help.