Australia’s two largest states, VIC and NSW, and the ACT are in lockdown as the Delta strain of COVID-19 takes its toll while
others are standing firm on a policy of eradication. The result is a country at a policy impasse and divided by border restrictions.
And, it is not just businesses in lockdown that are in crisis. Tourism and hospitality businesses that rely on interstate trade are equally
impacted but financial assistance is often limited or non-existent if they are not in a hotspot.
At the time of writing, Australia is on track to fully vaccinate the eligible population of 20.62 million adults in December 2021. Based on
National Cabinet’s four stage roadmap to normal, Australia should move to phase B of the plan when 70% of the eligible population have
received their second dose of the vaccine. At Phase B, it is expected that lockdowns will be “less likely” and special rules will apply to
the fully vaccinated. At Phase C, when 80% of the eligible population is vaccinated, the plan is for Australia to return to “baseline
restrictions” with no caps on returning visitors, and a gradual opening of inward and outward international travel with safe countries
(quarantine requirements will still apply but will be reduced).
The problem for “Team Australia” is that not all players are the same. While some regions remain in an eradication phase, the strategy for
opening and returning to normal is necessarily different (assuming these regions remain Delta free).
In NSW and Victoria, hope of defeating Delta has been abandoned with the focus now on bringing the population up to the maximum vaccination
level to prevent hospitalisations and death.
In QLD and WA however, the strategy for opening is more complex with the bar being raised well beyond the national plan (QLD Premier
Annastacia Palaszczuk has demand that children under 12 be included in vaccination targets).
Freedoms for the fully vaccinated and what it means for business.
A major concern for many business operators is the expectation of policing vaccination status for both staff and customers.
Another question is whether an employee can refuse to come to work because their co-workers are not vaccinated.
But, the Australian Human Rights Commission states that where someone is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, a “blanket rule requiring all
employees to attend a particular workplace may constitute indirect discrimination.” Whether it’s reasonable for an employee to attend their
workplace is highly dependent on the facts and you should seek legal advice.
If an employee refuses to attend the workplace because a co-worker isn’t vaccinated, their employer can direct them to attend the
workplace if the direction is lawful and reasonable.