06 July 2021

Could employers offer vaccinations in the office?

This article was originally published by Jerome Doraisamy for Lawyers Weekly (5 July 2021).

Many employers already have the structures and sophistication to provide vaccinations safely in the workplace to their staff and with minimal legal risk, says one firm.

Challenger firm Bartier Perry, which has recently evolved from a boutique to a bigger player, says that offering workplace COVID-19 vaccinations can deliver health benefits as opposed to legal risk.

Partner Darren Gardner said that the infrastructure is already in place at the workplaces of large employers: “A large number of Australian’s have their flu jab at work. They sign a consent form, go for their vaccination quickly and conveniently at work, and wait a short while to make sure all’s well. It’s hard to point to any case or incident where things have gone wrong.

“It is, of course, for the medical professionals to determine which COVID vaccine would be appropriate to use in a workplace setting but you have an increasing alignment of big employers, unions and workers saying it makes sense.”

The experience of the US and the UK, Mr Gardner continued, shows that distribution and availability of the vaccine are essential in boosting the rates of vaccination nationwide. Moreover, he said, large conglomerate employers in South Korea – including Samsung and LG – are already administering vaccines to their workforces.

“There’s already an acceptance for employers here to provide the flu jab and it would certainly speed up vaccination rates if employers could also offer a COVID vaccination at work,” he stressed.

“No one is saying a business must offer that option but, rather, it’s about supporting them if they have the capacity to.”

Bartier Perry special counsel Linda Mackinlay added that while the focus to date had been on whether employers could require their employees to be vaccinated, she noted that offering it in the workplace could be a powerful way of encouraging people to get the jab.

“Your work colleagues are not a social media echo chamber. They offer a different and often trusted perspective, they can reassure people as to any concerns they have and encourage and support a colleague who may be nervous,” she said.

Furthermore, Ms Mackinlay pointed out, employers in the US, including but not limited to McDonald’s and Amtrak, are offering a range of incentives to their employees to get vaccinated while other retailers, like Walmart and Costco, are providing in-store vaccinations for COVID-19 to customers, some with discount shopping incentives.

Such strategies are not just clever marketing for businesses that have been hit hard by the age of coronavirus, she surmised. They are proving, she said, to be a “very effective” way to help fast-track governmental efforts to vaccinate the populace.

Employers in Australia, including law firms, can and should be actively considering such measures, the pair suggested.

“Enabling Australian employers and business to administer COVID-19 vaccinations at work is a better way of hastening the vaccination roll-out in Australia,” Ms Mackinlay concluded.

“It would likely be positively welcomed by employees as a quicker and easier way to protect themselves, their workmates and others, as well as helping Australian employers to be more empowered to ensure safer workplaces and to get back to business sooner.”