In October and November, we will see millions of locked-down workers flood back to the office for the much awaited new normal 2.0 (living with Covid edition). Employers will need to decide very quickly if they are happy to have non-vaccinated staff in the office working alongside vaccinated team members. And what legal and moral hurdles this presents.
I spoke to one of our vaccinated contractors about this scenario recently, he said, ‘I would feel really unsafe working with unvaccinated people, potentially I might start to look for a new job’. Conversely, I spoke to a customer who had genuinely held concerns for her safety if she received a vaccine.
The problem is exacerbated in the tech sector by our demographics which are heavily skewed towards males aged 20 to 50. And as I write this in early October, more than one-quarter of that cohort remains completely unvaccinated including over 35% of males aged in their 20s.
Job Ads Requiring Vaccinations
I’ve started monitoring the number of job ads that request vaccination.
At the moment around 5% of all job ads contain the words vaccine or vaccination. And the majority of those are in the health and aged care sector. For IT job ads, only 0.5% of ads mention vaccination. The majority of these are IT roles in the aged care, health, airline, and food manufacturing sector.
Along with other commentators, I expect these numbers to increase very rapidly as employers finalise their positions. I’ll report on these ad numbers again next month.
As an employer of IT contractors, Balance’s first priority is the safety of our employees. And like many employers, we have been seeking some certainty on how to balance our safety obligations versus the rights of team members who choose to remain unvaccinated.
To be clear, we strongly support vaccination. And 100% of our recruitment and support teams have chosen to be vaccinated.
Fairwork have developed a tiered system to help employers decide what is in fact lawful and reasonable. The system defines scenarios from Tier 1 where it is absolutely reasonable, to Tier 4 where it is hard to justify making it a requirement.
Are we seeing mandatory vaccinations?
At Balance, we have a wide range of customers: large corporates, SMEs, NFPs, and Government – both state and federal.
Last month, most of our NSW State Government customers sent us notification that their new no jab, no job policies would apply to our contractors. This has been ordered by the former Berejiklian Government and the Departments are complying.
We also have several customers in the Aged Care and Health sectors. Most of these businesses have had clear Flu Vaccination policies for many years and now all are requiring Covid vaccination.
However, outside of this, we’re yet to see much movement. Most of our customers, including the Federal Government, seem to be taking a wait-and-see approach while they wrestle with the issue and formulate policy.
To be clear, these policies do not compel individuals to have vaccinations. The Ethics Centre recently published an article explaining the difference between conditional and compulsory vaccinations. The no jab, no job policies clearly fall into the conditional category. However, this will be cold comfort to those with strong objections to these vaccines.
Currently, many businesses are consulting with their staff on policy content, and we are expecting a flood of these documents to be delivered in the coming 2-4 weeks. From our discussions, we believe the consensus of these consultations seems to be firmly on the side of the vaccinated majority, many of whom wish to attend the workplace and not work closely with unvaccinated colleagues, suppliers, and customers.
For those not wishing to be vaccinated, it would appear there will be fewer options when looking for new roles and opportunities within their existing organisation, as well as potentially decreased scope within their existing roles. It will be interesting to see how overt organisations are in requiring new staff to be vaccinated, and how this changes over time.
What is Balance doing?
Our position is that when our customers have lawful and reasonable requirements to have employees and contractors vaccinated, we will advertise roles with vaccine requirements as part of the mandatory selection criteria. And every job brief we take, we now include a question about the role’s vaccination requirements.
Obviously, there is still a grey area in terms of what is fair and reasonable. While there is excellent case law to back conditional vaccination in certain industries (FWC2156), (FWCFB6015), (FWC2989), a number of current court cases are specifically addressing covid vaccination as a condition of employment, and it’s likely our position will evolve in line with the outcome of those cases.
In the meantime, we’re having conversations with our staff, clients, and contractors to understand individual positions and concerns and mediate effectively the more challenging cases. The overarching theme from everything we’re hearing from insurance, legal, and work health safety experts is that directives don’t work that well. Rather conversation, encouragement, and education are much better at creating a safe and cohesive workplace.