On 30 November 2021, Queensland’s Premier has announced that all staff employed by a school will need to receive their first vaccination against COVID-19 (if not already vaccinated) by 17 December 2021 and their second vaccination by 23 January 2022.
The purpose of the announcement is to “protect young people” and to align with educational policy decisions already made in New South Wales and Victoria.
The requirements also extend to airports, early childhood centres, correctional centres, and youth detention facilities.
As at the time of writing, no Public Health Orders have been published to this effect, which leaves many questions unanswered. It will be imperative that once these Public Health Orders are released, schools understand their obligations in respect of them and comply with same.
This article seeks to provide some general answers to frequently asked questions in light of this announcement. If you need tailored advice specific to your situation, please contact our business development team on (07) 3252 0011 to make an appointment with one of our employment lawyers.
Do all staff-members need to comply with the mandate?
The short answer is yes. Whilst a Public Health Order has not yet been published (and this will provide further detail), we anticipate that it will follow a similar structure to the current order in place for healthcare workers.
This means that it is likely that all staff who work in an education setting (it will likely apply to all staff at schools, not just teachers) would need to comply with the requirement to be vaccinated within the specified timeframes. There are of course exemptions to the mandate, including where a person has a medical contraindication that precludes them from receiving the vaccine. However, this medical contraindication would need to be evidenced with sufficient material provided from a qualified medical professional.
Recent decisions of the Courts and Commissions over the last few months are making the position regarding exemptions a bit clearer. Indeed, many employees have lodged exemption applications in various Courts and Commissions on the basis of religious or political grounds., however these applications have been unsuccessful to date.
Does it apply to volunteers and contractors?
While we continue to await the publication of the written Public Health Orders, it is anticipated that the directions will extend to contractors and volunteers (as well as employees) who may work in an education setting from time to time. This would certainly align with the approaches taken in Victoria and New South Wales.
What if a staff member chooses not to comply?
Failure to comply with the mandate (without evidence of a medical contra-indication) may be considered a valid reason for disciplinary action. Schools may also be entitled to stand an employee down with or without pay until the future of the Public Health Order becomes clearer (the current public health emergency is currently expected to end on 26 December 2021 with the likelihood of the emergency declaration being extended by a further 90 days). Although, such steps are subject to the terms of employment, and otherwise the need to obtain the staff-member’s consent.
Schools may also wish to consider other alternatives available, such as redeployment to roles not covered by the vaccine mandate (if any), work from home options or other adjustments that may be reasonable in all the circumstances.
The Public Health Order is yet to be published however, it is likely that the mandate will have ‘blanket coverage’ and apply to any person over the age of 16 years who seeks to remain in or commencement employment with a school, early childhood centre, airport or correctional centre.
Do schools need to enforce the mandate?
Given the requirement applies to staff-members, employers will be required to take sufficient steps to ensure compliance with the Public Health Order(s). This may mean schools may need to receive or sight evidence of their employees’ vaccination status (e.g., vaccination certificates) and/or keep an up to date register of vaccination status. It will be critical that schools ensure that it’s method of collection and storage of this information is in accordance with privacy laws.
A school’s non-compliance with the Public Health Order may carry significant pecuniary penalties.
Does this mandate extend to our students and their parents?
At this stage, the Premier’s announcement seems to only address the vaccination status of staff-members employed by a school and not the students or their parents.
We encourage all to keep up to date with the government announcements and directions in this respect as the landscape is changing day by day.
Do you need assistance in drafting a vaccination policy or notification to your staff? Call our Business Development Team on 07 3252 0011 to book an appointment with one of our employment lawyers who can assist your organisation.