Vaccine Mandate: FAQs
Onsite teaching and learning is resuming across the State! As part of the return to onsite learning, there is now a COVID-19 vaccination mandate in place all schools.
Understandably, this mandate has caused some concern amongst Principals as you navigate managing your staff, potential non-compliance and alleged exemptions.
In response to this, we have collated some FAQs for your assistance. If you have further questions or in need of particular support, such as preparing a vaccine mandate policy, contact us.
Q: What is the Government direction?
“Directions from Acting Chief Health Officer in accordance with emergency powers arising from declared state of emergency COVID-19 Mandatory Vaccination Directions (No 5)” issued on 2 October 2021 states that:
All staff must have received their first dose of their COVID-19 vaccine (or be booked in to receive it by October 22) and be FULLY vaccinated by November 29 (unless medically exempted).
Q: Who does the direction apply to?
The direction applies to education providers who are:
- registered schools as defined under the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (Vic); and
- onsite early childhood education and care services or children’s services provided under the Education and Care Services National Law, the Education and Care Services National Regulations, and the Children’s Services Act 1996 (Vic).
Q: What does this mean for my staff?
Staff cannot attend onsite at your school unless they meet the requirements of the Government Direction.
Q: What do I have to do to comply?
Not only must you ensure your school complies with the direction, but you must also collect the relevant information to support this claim.
Therefore, by 18 October 2021, schools must have collected confirmation that staff:
- have received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccination; or
- have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and the date they have booked in to receive their second dose is before 29 November 2021; or
- have made a booking to receive their first COVID-19 vaccination on or before 22 October 2021; or
- have a medical practitioner approved exception.
Q: What if my staff don’t comply?
If staff have not provided the above information by 18 October 2021, you must NOT permit them to be on school grounds.
PLEASE NOTE if staff do not comply with the direction, it is very important you still engage in a proper processes to manage those staff to avoid any scope for discrimination and/or unfair dismissal claims.
Q: What about those who have a booking?
Q: What does it mean by “medical exception”?
If a staff member has a medical contraindication, as determined by the clinical guidance (see ATAGI clinical guidance on COVID-19 vaccine), and can provide evidence evidence from an approved medical practitioner, they may be entitled to a vaccine exemption.
If this is an issue for your school, the school MUST sight and record evidence from the approved medical practitioner.
Please do not hesitate to contact us so we can ensure they do meet the requirement.
Q: Is “religious reasons” grounds for an exception?
No. Other than medical exemptions, there are no other valid reasons not to comply with the Government Direction.
Q: Can I collect information without breaching privacy obligations?
Yes. Schools are required to collect, record and hold information regarding each staff member’s vaccination status if they will or may be on school grounds from 18 October 2021.
NOTE: Privacy considerations which apply to health information will apply here (regarding storage, use, disclosure, security, access and archiving). Accordingly, you must take reasonable steps to ensure that the information provided by staff is used only for the intended purpose. The use or disclosure of staff vaccination information for an unauthorised purpose could attract serious penalties.
Q: What information do I need to collect?
The information to be collected includes:
– whether each staff member is fully vaccinated; or
– if they are not fully vaccinated:
(i) the date they have booked to receive their first or second dose;
(ii) whether they intend to apply for an exception on the grounds of a medical contraindication; or
(iii) whether they do not intend to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
Q: What constitutes evidence of vaccination status?
– Immunisation History Statement; or
– digital certificate; or
– letter from a general physician.
Q: Will my school’s records get audited?
They could be. An authorised officer may request a school to provide its vaccination records and the school will be required to comply.
Q: I have unvaccinated staff (without a medical exception). How do I practically deal with this?
Each situation must be handled based on the individual circumstances.
The relevant considerations include:
– whether the school can reasonably accommodate alternate duties that can be completed off-site;
– whether the stand-down mechanisms under the VCEMEA and the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) are available to stand the employee down without pay for a temporary period; or
– whether the termination of the staff member’s employment is a valid option and how the school may seek to minimse risks associated with termination.
You should seek guidance from your employing authority about managing unvaccinated staff.
Of course, Brennan Law Partners can also help you navigate the considerations in managing the situation.
Q: Do I have to follow the direction?
Yes. Significant penalties apply if a school or staff member does not comply with the direction. The school could face a fine of up to $109,044 (600 penalty units) for a each breach.
How can Brennan Law Partners assist?
We are here for you every step of the way, be it navigating the mandate or managing staff through it. We recommend preparing a policy about the vaccination requirement so as to easily and clearly communicate with your staff. Contact us to prepare this tailored COVID Vaccine Mandate Policy for your school. Brennan Law Partners can also assist to:
- answer any questions you have about the direction;
- support you to meet your privacy obligations;
- create processes for dealing with staff pushback;
- navigate alleged exceptions by staff;
- prepare for and dealing with non-compliance.