COVID-19 vaccinations: workplace rights and obligations

Published 9 April 2021 | Updated 6 December 2022

Australia's COVID-19 vaccine coverage continues to increase. Employers and employees are encouraged to continue working together to find solutions that suit their individual needs and workplaces. An important part of Australia’s vaccine rollout continues to be a collaborative approach in the workplace that includes discussing, planning and facilitating COVID-19 vaccinations.

Employers can support their employees by:

  • giving employees leave or paid time off to get vaccinated
  • helping to ensure employees have access to reliable and up-to-date information about the effectiveness of vaccinations – visit the Department of Health’s website to Approved COVID-19 vaccines external-icon.png
  • where employees choose not to be vaccinated or aren’t able to be vaccinated, exploring other options including alternative work arrangements.

In some cases, employers may be able to require their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, including where a specific law (such as a public health order) requires it. Employers should get legal advice if they’re considering requiring COVID-19 vaccinations in their workplace.

Find more information about these topics below.

Requiring employees to be vaccinated

Can an employer require an employee to be vaccinated?

Employers can only require their employees to be vaccinated where:

  • a specific law (such as a state or territory public health order) requires it
  • the requirement is permitted by an enterprise agreement, other registered agreement or employment contract, or
  • they give their employees a lawful and reasonable direction to be vaccinated. Whether a direction is lawful and reasonable is assessed on a case-by-case basis.

One or more of these circumstances can apply. For example, an employer could rely on a state public health order that requires their employee to be vaccinated to give the employee a lawful and reasonable direction not to work unless they are vaccinated.

Employers should also consider how protections for employees under anti-discrimination laws may apply. Learn more at How does a requirement to be vaccinated interact with anti-discrimination laws?

An employer may in certain circumstances be required to direct employees to get vaccinated to comply with obligations under a work health and safety (WHS) law. Information on WHS obligations is available from Safe Work Australia external-icon.png. To learn what WHS laws apply, go to Commonwealth, state or territory workplace health and safety regulators.

Employers should get their own legal advice if they’re considering requiring vaccinations in their workplace.

Legislation and public health orders

State and territory governments have been issuing public health orders and directions requiring certain workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in their state or territory. Examples of industries affected include:

  • aged care
  • quarantine and transportation
  • health care
  • schools and early childhood education.

Employers and workers need to comply with any public health orders and directions that apply to them. For information about what happens when an employee refuses to get vaccinated when a public health order requires them to be, see Refusing directions to be vaccinated.

Access state and territory public health order information at Orders and directions during coronavirus.

Example: Requirement to get vaccinated – public health order in place

Doug works as a carer in an aged care facility. His state government issued a public health order requiring all workers in aged care facilities to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Doug’s employer is required to comply with the public health order or penalties may apply.

When the public health order was issued, Doug's employer Andrew consulted with staff and told them that under the public health order all affected staff had to be vaccinated to keep coming to work at the facility. Doug does not have an exemption from the requirement to be vaccinated, so will need to be vaccinated to keep working at the aged care facility.

Agreements or contracts

Some employment contracts or agreements may have terms relating to vaccinations, including COVID-19 vaccinations. Check to see if any terms apply to COVID-19 vaccinations (for example, a term relating only to flu vaccinations won’t apply to COVID-19 vaccinations).

Employers can include a term in employment contracts for new employees relating to COVID-19 vaccinations. Find out more at Can an employer require a prospective employee to be vaccinated before starting work?

Even where a contract or an agreement has a term about COVID-19 vaccinations, consider whether the term complies with anti-discrimination laws. A term that is inconsistent with anti-discrimination laws won’t apply. Find out more at How does a requirement to be vaccinated interact with anti-discrimination laws?

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Lawful and reasonable directions

An employer may still be able to give their employee a lawful and reasonable direction to get vaccinated, even if there is no public health order, agreement or contract with terms about COVID-19 vaccination that applies.

Whether a direction is lawful and reasonable depends on the facts of the individual situation and needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Just because it may be lawful and reasonable to give a direction to one employee, that doesn’t mean it will automatically be lawful and reasonable to give the same direction to another employee or to all employees.

The direction needs to be lawful and reasonable.

For a direction to be lawful, it needs to comply with any employment contract, award or agreement terms, and any Commonwealth, state or territory law that applies (for example, an anti-discrimination law).

There are a range of factors that may be relevant when determining whether a direction to an employee to be vaccinated against COVID-19 is reasonable. Things to consider include:

  • the terms of any public health orders in place where the workplace is located
  • WHS obligations (find out more at Safe Work Australia external-icon.png)
  • the nature of each workplace (for example, the extent to which employees need to work in public facing roles and whether social distancing is possible)
  • the extent of community transmission of COVID-19 in the location where the direction is to be given, including the risk of transmission of variants of concern among employees, customers or other members of the community
  • the effectiveness of vaccines in reducing the risk of transmission or serious illness
  • the availability and effectiveness of other control measures in the workplace (for example, physical distancing, limitations on visitors, ventilation, mask-wearing and testing)
  • each employee’s circumstances, including their duties and the risks associated with their work
  • whether employees have a legitimate reason for not being vaccinated (for example, a medical reason)
  • the availability of vaccines.

To assist in assessing whether directing an employee to be vaccinated against COVID-19 is reasonable, it may be helpful as a general guide to divide work into 4 broad tiers:

  • Tier 1 work, where employees are required as part of their duties to interact with people with an increased risk of being infected with COVID-19 (for example, employees working in quarantine or border control).
  • Tier 2 work, where employees are required to have close contact with people who are particularly vulnerable to the health impacts of COVID-19 (for example, employees working in health care or aged care).
  • Tier 3 work, where there is interaction or likely interaction between employees and other people such as customers, other employees or the public in the normal course of employment.
  • Tier 4 work, where employees have minimal face-to-face interaction as part of their normal employment duties (for example, where they are working from home).

A workplace may have a mix of employees with different employees performing work in different tiers, all of which could change over time.

An employer’s direction to employees performing Tier 1 or Tier 2 work is more likely to be reasonable, given the increased risk of employees being infected with COVID-19, or giving COVID-19 to a person who is particularly vulnerable to the health impacts of COVID-19.

An employer’s direction to employees performing Tier 4 work is unlikely to be reasonable, given the limited risk of transmission of COVID-19.

For employees performing Tier 3 work, a direction to receive a vaccination is more likely to be reasonable if community transmission of COVID-19 is occurring where the employee is located and the employee is attending the workplace to perform their role.

Regardless of the tier or tiers which may apply to work performed by employees, the question of whether a direction is reasonable will always be fact dependent and needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. This will require consideration of all relevant factors applicable to the workplace, the employees and the nature of the work that they perform. Employers should get their own legal advice if they’re considering requiring COVID-19 vaccinations in their workplace.

If employers are considering requiring COVID-19 vaccinations in their workplace, it’s also important to check what consultation requirements apply. This includes consultation requirements under WHS laws and under any relevant workplace instruments such as an award or enterprise agreement. A direction to an employee to be vaccinated may not be lawful and reasonable if the employer hasn’t complied with their consultation obligations.

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How does a requirement to be vaccinated interact with anti-discrimination laws?

It’s important that employers consider their obligations and responsibilities under anti-discrimination laws, which generally prohibit discrimination against employees in the workplace based on protected characteristics, such as disability.

Before requiring employees to be vaccinated, employers need to consider:

  • commonwealth, state or territory discrimination laws
  • general protections provisions under the Fair Work Act.

Find out more about COVID-19 vaccinations and anti-discrimination laws in Australia at the Australian Human Rights Commission external-icon.png.

Get more information on discrimination protections under the Fair Work Act at Protection from discrimination at work.

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Can an employer require a prospective employee to be vaccinated before starting work?

An employer may be able to require a prospective employee to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Before they do, employers should consider their obligations and responsibilities carefully, for example, under general protections or anti-discrimination laws.

Find out more about COVID-19 vaccinations and anti-discrimination laws in Australia at the Australian Human Rights Commission external-icon.png.

Get more information on discrimination protections under the Fair Work Act at Protection from discrimination at work.

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Refusing directions to be vaccinated

Can an employee refuse to be vaccinated?

Some employees may have questions or concerns about getting vaccinated. You can:

If an employee refuses to be vaccinated and they are required to (see Requiring employees to be vaccinated), an employer should, as a first step, ask the employee to explain their reasons. An employee may have a legitimate reason for not being vaccinated. For example, the employee could have an existing medical condition that means vaccination is not recommended for them.

If the employee gives a legitimate reason for not being vaccinated, the employee and their employer should discuss whether there are any other options available instead of vaccination. This could include alternative work arrangements, such as asking the employee to perform different duties or to work from home. Find out more at Alternative work arrangements.

Further guidance on resolving workplace issues can be found at:

Where an employee has a reason for not getting vaccinated, an employer may be able to request evidence of the reason for their refusal. Find out more at If an employee refuses to be vaccinated, can an employer require evidence about why they’ve refused?

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Can an employer take disciplinary action if an employee refuses to get vaccinated?

If an employee refuses to be vaccinated and they are required to (see Requiring employees to be vaccinated), and the employee doesn’t have a legitimate reason for not being vaccinated, an employer may be able to take disciplinary action, including termination of employment.

Whether an employer can take disciplinary action will depend on the circumstances. Employers should also consider the terms, obligations and rights under any applicable:

If an employee refuses to be vaccinated (even if they are required to by a public health order), it’s unlikely that the employer can 'stand down' the employee under the Fair Work Act. A ‘stand down’ has a specific meaning and purpose and there are only a few reasons an employer can stand down employees under the Fair Work Act. For example, because of industrial action or a stoppage of work outside the employer’s control. Awards, agreements or contracts may have other terms (with different rules) on standing down employees. Learn more about standing down employees at Stand downs.

If an employee can’t attend work because there is a public health order requiring them to be vaccinated and they’re not, and they can’t work from home, then the employer doesn’t have to pay the employee. This applies unless the employer agrees to the employee taking paid leave such as annual leave or long service leave. For a list of public health orders and who to contact to find out if they apply, see Orders and directions during coronavirus.

There may also be circumstances where employees may request to take unpaid leave. Employers should check the relevant award, agreement, contract and any workplace policy that applies for any specific conditions or entitlements the employee may have. Employers can also always agree to give an employee unpaid leave, if they choose.

Example: Employee refuses to get vaccinated – public health order applies to workplace

Trang operates a disability support business and has one employee, Katie.

Trang finds out that a public health order applies to disability support businesses in her state. The public health order requires all workers, including Katie, to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to continue working. Katie doesn’t have an exemption from the public health order.

Trang discusses the requirement to be vaccinated with Katie, who tells Trang that she isn’t going to get vaccinated. Trang tries to discuss this further with Katie, but she refuses to provide a reason and refuses to provide reasonable evidence for why she isn’t getting vaccinated.

As Katie refuses to get vaccinated in accordance with a public health order, Trang does not have to pay Katie while she can’t work because she hasn’t met the requirements of the public health order. Trang and Katie could agree to Katie taking paid or unpaid leave.

If an employee refuses to be vaccinated and the employer suspends the employee for disciplinary reasons, the employee generally has to be paid unless an enterprise or other registered agreement, award or employment contract allows them to be suspended without pay.

Employers should make sure that they follow a fair process and have a valid reason for suspending or ending employment, or they may breach unfair dismissal or adverse action laws under the Fair Work Act.

Employers should also consider getting legal advice in these situations.

Find more information, see:

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If an employee refuses to be vaccinated, can an employer require evidence?

If an employee refuses to be vaccinated and they are required to be (see Requiring employees to be vaccinated), an employer can ask an employee to provide evidence of the reason the employee has refused to comply.

This evidence may include sensitive information that raises privacy requirements or concerns. More information about workplace privacy is available at:

In some circumstances, there might be limits under anti-discrimination legislation on the type of evidence that can be requested. For more information, see the Australian Human Rights Commission external-icon.png.

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Managing vaccinations in the workplace

Do employees have to be paid for the time to get vaccinated against COVID-19?

Where an employer can require an employee to be vaccinated against COVID-19 (for example, because of the operation of a public health order), the employer should cover the employee’s travel costs and give the employee time off work without loss of pay if the appointment is during work hours.

Employers should consider any applicable awards, agreements, employment contracts or workplace policies, in case they include rules about these types of issues.

Even where an employer doesn’t require their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, they can still discuss work adjustments, leave arrangements or incentives with their employees to support them getting vaccinated. These arrangements could include:

  • requesting and taking leave
  • starting work later or finishing early (to help employees to attend a vaccination appointment around work hours)
  • working from home (to help an employee attend a local vaccination appointment)
  • providing paid time off for their employees to get vaccinated.

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Can an employee take sick leave to get vaccinated against COVID-19?

Employees can’t usually take sick leave to get vaccinated against COVID-19. This is because sick leave under the National Employment Standards is only available when an employee is unfit for work because of an illness or injury.

An award, enterprise agreement, other registered agreement, employment contract or workplace policy may include extra rules about using sick leave. For more information about when sick and carer’s leave can be taken, go to Paid sick and carer’s leave.

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Can employees take paid time off if they feel unwell after being vaccinated?

Full-time and part-time employees can use paid sick leave if they can't work because they’re unwell after being vaccinated.

If a full-time or part-time employee runs out of paid sick leave, they may be able to agree with their employer to access other paid leave entitlements, like annual leave, or to make other arrangements like taking unpaid leave.

Employers should also consider their obligations under any award, enterprise agreement or other registered agreement, employment contract or workplace policy, which could include extra rules about sick leave.

Casual employees don’t usually get paid sick leave. If a casual employee can’t work because they feel unwell after being vaccinated, they can agree with their employer to adjust their work arrangements, for example, by changing their shift day or time.

All employees are protected from adverse action because they have exercised or propose to exercise their workplace rights. This includes an employee’s workplace rights to take, or to propose to take, sick leave.

Find out more about:

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Can an employee refuse to attend the workplace because a co-worker isn’t vaccinated against COVID-19?

It’s unlikely that an employee can refuse to attend their workplace because a co-worker isn’t vaccinated against COVID-19. The reasons for this include:

  • vaccination isn’t mandatory for all employees and not all workplaces can require their employees to be vaccinated
  • the co-worker may have a legitimate reason not to be vaccinated (for example, a medical reason).

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. Whether a direction is lawful and reasonable depends on all the circumstances.

If it’s unclear whether a direction or an employee’s refusal is reasonable, employers should consider seeking legal advice before taking disciplinary action.

If an employee has concerns about the safety of the workplace, they should raise their concerns with their employer as soon as possible. Employers should also consider sharing information about any steps they’ve taken to ensure a safe workplace, to help manage employee concerns.

For more information about WHS during COVID-19, visit Safe Work Australia external-icon.png.

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Does an employer need to consult when implementing a workplace policy about COVID-19 vaccinations?

Before implementing a new workplace policy or changing an existing policy about vaccinations, employers need to consider their workplace and employees’ circumstances and whether they need legal advice about their obligations.

Under WHS laws, employers have to consult with employees and any health and safety representatives (HSRs) about possible control measures to address WHS risks. This includes when they are considering changing or making a new policy about COVID-19 vaccinations.

Employers must also provide employees and their HSRs a reasonable opportunity to express their views about the policy changes. Employers need to take these views into account when making a decision and advise employees and HSRs of their decision.

Visit Safe Work Australia’s website for more information under WHS laws on specific COVID-19 WHS issues external-icon.png and consultation obligations external-icon.png.

There may also be consultation requirements in an award, enterprise agreement or another registered agreement that applies to the workplace. All awards and enterprise agreements have a consultation clause requiring employers to consult with employees and any representatives when an employer intends to implement significant workplace changes. Some registered agreements, employment contracts or existing workplace policies may also require employers to consult. You can find more information about consultation and cooperation in the workplace here: Consultation and cooperation in the workplace – Best practice guides.

Before introducing or changing a workplace policy about vaccinations, employers should review any applicable award, agreement, employment contract or existing workplace policy to find out:

  • whether they need to consult under that document (as well as needing to consult under WHS laws)
  • who they need to consult with (including any employee representatives or unions)
  • how they need to consult about the proposed workplace change.

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Providing evidence of vaccination

Can an employer require an employee to provide evidence that they have been vaccinated?

If an employer has provided a lawful and reasonable direction to be vaccinated for COVID-19, the employer can also ask the employee to provide evidence of their vaccination.

An employer may ask to see evidence of an employee's vaccination status without raising privacy obligations, provided they don’t keep a copy of or make a record of the vaccination certificate. An employer should not collect vaccination status information from an employee unless the employee consents and the collection is reasonably necessary for the employer's functions and activities.

Consent to collect this information is not required if the collection is required or authorised by law (for example, a public health order applies). State and territory laws, regulations or public health orders may have additional requirements around the collection, use and destruction of vaccination information.

More information about workplace privacy is available at:

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What counts as proof of vaccination?

Australians can access proof of vaccination after they have been vaccinated through myGov, their vaccination provider (including a medical practitioner) or the Australian Immunisation Register. Visit Services Australia – How to get proof of your COVID-19 vaccinations external-icon.png.

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