COVID-19 vaccinations: workplace rights and obligations

Published 9 April 2021 | Updated 11 May 2021

Find answers to common questions about different workplace issues and COVID-19 vaccinations.

Requiring employees to be vaccinated

Can an employer require an employee to be vaccinated?

In the current circumstances, the overwhelming majority of employers should assume that they can’t require their employees to be vaccinated against coronavirus.

While the Australian Government’s policy is that receiving a vaccination is voluntary, it aims to have as many Australians vaccinated as possible.

There are limited circumstances where an employer may require their employees to be vaccinated. Whether an employer can require their employees to be vaccinated against coronavirus is highly fact dependent, taking account of the workplace and each employee’s circumstances. Relevant factors an employer should consider include:

  • whether a specific law (such as a state or territory public health law) requires an employee to be vaccinated (see Legislation and public health orders requiring vaccination against coronavirus)
  • whether an enterprise agreement, other registered agreement or employment contract includes a provision about requiring vaccinations
  • if no law, agreement or employment contract applies that requires vaccination, whether it would be lawful and reasonable for an employer to give their employees a direction to be vaccinated (which is assessed on a case by case basis).

Further considerations may include whether employees have a legitimate reason for not being vaccinated (for example, a medical reason), and how protections for employees under anti-discrimination laws may apply. Learn more at How does a vaccination requirement interact with anti-discrimination laws?

We have included more information on these issues below.

Employers should get their own legal advice if:

  • they’re considering making coronavirus vaccinations mandatory in their workplace, or
  • they operate in a coronavirus high-risk environment (for example, health care or meat processing).

Legislation and public health orders requiring vaccination against coronavirus

State and territory governments may make public health orders requiring the vaccination of workers (for example, in identified high-risk workplaces or industries) in their state or territory. Employers and workers need to comply with any public health orders that apply to them.

Queensland Government

In late March 2021, the Queensland Government issued a public health direction mandating coronavirus vaccination for some workers. The direction was issued on 31 March 2021 and affects:

  • health service employees
  • Queensland Ambulance Service (QAS) employees
  • hospital and health service contractors.

For more information, visit the Queensland Health website:

Western Australian Goverment

The Western Australian (WA) Government has issued public health directions preventing quarantine centre workers from entering or remaining at a quarantine centre if they haven’t been vaccinated against COVID-19. The directions came into effect from 10 May 2021.

The directions affect those working within WA’s hotel quarantine system including:

  • security personnel, cleaners and hotel staff
  • medical and health staff
  • ADF personnel and WA police.

Read the public health directions at WA Government – Access to Quarantine Centres Directions external-icon.png.

Some employees in WA aren’t covered by the Fair Work system. For information about the WA state system, visit WA Labour Relations – Guide to who is in the WA state system external-icon.png.

At this stage, only Queensland and WA have issued public health orders or directions enabling employers to require their employees to be vaccinated against coronavirus. This may change. We will update our information if new public health orders or directions are issued.

For information on other public health orders, see List of enforceable government directions during coronavirus.

Agreements or contracts relating to vaccinations

Some contracts or agreements may contain terms relating to vaccinations or coronavirus vaccinations specifically. Employers and employees should check to see if the term applies to coronavirus vaccinations (for example, a term relating only to flu vaccinations won’t apply).

Even where contract or an agreement term applies to coronavirus, employers and employees will need to consider whether the term complies with anti-discrimination laws. A term that is contrary to anti-discrimination laws will not be enforceable.

If in doubt, employers and employees should consider getting legal advice on these issues.

Lawful and reasonable directions

Employers can direct their employees to be vaccinated if the direction is lawful and reasonable. Whether a direction is lawful and reasonable needs to be assessed on a case by case basis.

For a direction to be lawful, it needs to comply with any contract, award or agreement, 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 is reasonable, including whether the direction is a reasonably practicable measure to eliminate or minimise risks to work health and safety under work health and safety laws.

On its own, the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t automatically make it reasonable for an employer to direct their employees to be vaccinated against coronavirus. Some circumstances in which a direction may be more likely to be reasonable include where:

  • employees interact with people with an elevated risk of being infected with coronavirus (for example, employees working in hotel quarantine or border control), or
  • employees have close contact with people who are most vulnerable to the health impacts of coronavirus infection (for example, employees working in health care or aged care).

Work health and safety considerations are an important factor to consider in working out whether a direction is reasonable. Employers and workers can get guidance on specific coronavirus work health and safety issues from Safe Work Australia external-icon.png.

Go to Commonwealth, state or territory workplace health and safety regulators to learn what work health and safety laws apply.

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

In most circumstances, an employer may be able to require a prospective employee to be vaccinated against coronavirus.

Before requiring that a prospective employee be vaccinated before starting employment, employers should consider their obligations and responsibilities carefully, for example, under general protections or anti-discrimination laws.

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

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

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How does a vaccination requirement 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. Protected characteristics that are likely to be relevant in considering whether to require vaccination include disability, pregnancy or religious beliefs.

Before requesting or 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 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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If an employer requires an employee to be vaccinated against coronavirus, do they need to pay the employee’s travel costs or give them time off work?

Most employers won’t need to pay for their employees to be vaccinated against coronavirus, because vaccination isn’t mandatory for most employees and most workplaces won’t be able to require their employees to be vaccinated.

In the limited circumstances where an employer can require their employees to be vaccinated against coronavirus, the employer should:

  • cover an employee’s travel costs
  • if the vaccination appointment is during work hours, allow them to attend the appointment without loss of pay.

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 coronavirus, they can still discuss work adjustments or leave arrangements with their employees to support them getting vaccinated. These arrangements could include:

  • requesting and taking leave (for example, annual leave or unpaid leave)
  • starting work later or finishing early (to help attend a vaccination appointment around work hours)
  • working from home (to help an employee attend a local vaccination appointment).

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Refusing directions to be vaccinated

What happens if an employee refuses to be vaccinated?

If an employee refuses to be vaccinated (contrary to a specific law, agreement or contract that requires vaccination, or after receiving a clear and repeated lawful and reasonable direction), an employer should, as a first step, ask the employee to explain their reasons for refusing the vaccination.

If the employee has provided a legitimate reason for not being vaccinated (for example, the employee has an existing medical condition), the employee and their employer should consider whether there are any other options available instead of vaccination. This could include alternative work arrangements. Find out more at Alternative working arrangements

Whether disciplinary action is reasonable will depend on the circumstances. For more information on disciplinary action for refusing to be vaccinated, see Can an employer take disciplinary action if an employee refuses to get vaccinated?

If an employee refuses a direction to be vaccinated, it’s unlikely that their employer can stand down the employee. Stand down is only available in certain circumstances. Learn more about standing down employees at Stand downs.

Further, employers generally don’t have the power to suspend employees without pay, unless an enterprise or other registered agreement, award or employment contract allows them to.

We encourage employers to discuss options with their employees depending on the circumstances of their individual workplace. Learn more about consultation and cooperation in the workplace.

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

An employer may be able to take disciplinary action, including termination of employment, against an employee for refusing to be vaccinated if the employee’s refusal is in breach of:

  • a specific law, or
  • a clear and repeated lawful and reasonable direction requiring vaccination.

Whether an employer can take disciplinary action will depend on the individual facts and circumstances. To work out if and how an employer can take disciplinary action, employers should consider the terms, obligations and rights under any applicable:

  • enterprise agreement or other registered agreement
  • award
  • employment contract
  • workplace policy
  • public health order.

Employers should also consider getting legal advice in these situations.

Before taking any action, an employer should talk to the employee and discuss the employee’s reasons for not wanting to get vaccinated. For example, the employee may have a medical condition that means the vaccine may not be safe for the employee to take. In this instance, the employer should consider if there are other options available to keep the workplace safe instead of vaccination.

Employers don’t otherwise have the power to suspend employees without pay unless an enterprise or other registered agreement, award or employment contract allows them to.

Employees have various protections against being dismissed or treated adversely in their employment. Employers should make sure that they follow a fair process and have a valid reason for termination, or it may breach unfair dismissal or adverse action laws under the Fair Work Act.

Find more information about ending employment during coronavirus at Ending employment and redundancy.

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Providing evidence of vaccination or reason for refusal to be vaccinated

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 coronavirus and an employee complies, the employer could also ask the employee to provide evidence of their vaccination.

Where an employer wants to direct an employee to provide evidence, the employer should make sure that the requirement to provide evidence is also lawful and reasonable. As stated above, whether a direction would be lawful and reasonable depends on all of the circumstances. If it is unclear whether a direction or the employee’s refusal is reasonable, employers should not take disciplinary action lightly and should seek their own legal advice.

Find out what is considered proof of vaccination at What counts as proof of vaccination?

Directing an employee to provide evidence of their vaccination is likely to raise privacy issues. More information about workplace privacy is available at:

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What counts as proof of vaccination?

The Australian Government has said Australians will be able to access proof of vaccination after they have been vaccinated.

Learn more about how to get proof of your vaccination at Services Australia – How to get proof of your COVID-19 vaccinations external-icon.png.

A medical certificate from a doctor may also satisfy a proof of vaccination requirement.

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If an employee refuses to be vaccinated, can an employer require evidence about why they’ve refused?

If an employer has provided a lawful and reasonable direction to be vaccinated and an employee refuses, the employer could also ask the employee to provide evidence of the reason for their refusal.

Where an employer wants to direct an employee to provide evidence, the employer should make sure that the requirement to provide evidence is also lawful and reasonable. Whether a direction would be lawful and reasonable depends on all of the circumstances. If it is unclear whether a direction or the employee’s refusal is reasonable, employers should not take disciplinary action lightly and should seek their own legal advice.

Directing an employee to provide evidence of a medical reason for refusing a vaccination is likely to raise privacy issues. More information about workplace privacy is available at:

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Managing vaccinations in the workplace

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

Generally, it’s unlikely that an employee could refuse to attend their workplace where a co-worker isn’t vaccinated against coronavirus, including because:

  • vaccination isn’t mandatory for most employees and most workplaces won’t be able to 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, including the employer’s work health and safety obligations.

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.

Go to:

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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 the entitlement to sick leave under the National Employment Standards is only available when an employee is unfit for work because they are ill or injured.

However, an award, enterprise agreement, other registered agreement, employment contract or workplace policy may include extra rules about sick leave.

Employees may also be able to take paid sick leave if they feel unwell after being vaccinated and can’t work. See Do employers have to give employees paid time off if they feel unwell after being vaccinated?

In the limited circumstances where an employer can require an employee to be vaccinated against coronavirus, 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). Find out more at If an employer requires an employee to be vaccinated against coronavirus, do they need to pay the employee’s travel costs or give them time off work?

If an employee wants to take time off to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, they can discuss alternative work or leave arrangements with their employer. Options could include:

  • requesting and taking leave (for example, annual leave or unpaid leave)
  • starting work later or finishing early (to help attend a vaccination appointment around work hours)
  • working from home (to help an employee attend a local vaccination appointment).

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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Do employers have to give employees paid time off if they feel unwell after being vaccinated?

Employees may be able to take paid sick leave if they feel unwell after being vaccinated and can’t work.

Paid sick leave is available to full-time and part-time employees if they can't work because they’re unwell. To be entitled to take paid sick leave, employees need to:

  • give notice that they’re going to take sick leave as soon as possible (which can be after the leave has started)
  • say how long they’ll be off or expect to be off work
  • provide reasonable evidence that they aren’t fit for work, if their employer asks for it.

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 aren’t entitled to paid sick leave under the National Employment Standards. Casual employees are usually paid a casual loading instead of accumulating paid leave entitlements.

Find out more about:

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Do I need to consult when implementing a workplace policy about coronavirus vaccinations?

Under work health and safety (WHS) laws, employers must consult with employees and their health and safety representatives (HSRs) about plans to implement policies on WHS matters. This includes any plan to introduce a new policy about coronavirus vaccinations or changes to an existing vaccination policy.

Under WHS laws, employers must provide employees and their HSRs a reasonable opportunity to express their views about the policy changes. Employers must also take these views into account when making a decision and advise employees and HSRs of their decision. Employers and workers can get guidance on specific coronavirus WHS issues external-icon.png and their consultation obligations external-icon.png under WHS laws from Safe Work Australia.

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

Most workplaces are covered by either an award, enterprise agreement or another registered agreement. All awards and enterprise agreements need to include 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.

This means that before introducing or changing a workplace policy about vaccinations, employers should review any applicable award, agreement, employment contract or existing workplace policy to work out:

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

We encourage employers to discuss a proposed vaccination policy with their employees individually before implementing it, to make sure that all individual circumstances are considered before the policy is put in place.

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