Circular 2021/01: COVID-19 vaccinations
- The purpose of this Circular is to provide information to Commonwealth agencies and their employees on the Australian Government’s national roll-out of COVID-19 vaccinations.
National roll-out of vaccinations
- The Australian Government is committed to the safe and effective roll-out of COVID-19 vaccinations to all Australians, including employees of the Australian Public Service (APS).
- The Commonwealth Department of Health has provided guidance on eligibility for vaccination including booster shots as applicable.
- State and Territory Government health websites also publish local public health orders and restrictions, including requirements making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for groups of workers.
- Vaccination is mostly voluntary and strongly encouraged in Australia. COVID-19 vaccinations are available and free to all who are eligible.
- The Government has said that it does not intend to make the COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for all Australians or for Commonwealth employees. However, State and Territory Governments may make public health orders requiring the vaccination of workers in high-risk workplaces or industries, including in support of decisions of National Cabinet. Commonwealth workers in a relevant high-risk category would also need to comply with these public health orders.
- Decisions to require vaccination within particular workplaces or job roles is a matter for individual Agency Heads. Guidance for employers and employees is available from Safe Work Australia and the Fair Work Ombudsman.
- Agencies should be mindful of their obligations under work health and safety laws to ensure the health and safety of workers and others while at work, so far as it is reasonably practical.
- Agencies should also remain mindful of their obligations under the Privacy Act 1988, noting that employers would not typically be able to require an employee to declare their vaccination status without consent, unless such a declaration is required by legislation or a state or territory health order.
- Further guidance concerning Commonwealth employer privacy obligations is available from the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.
- Agencies seeking further guidance on drafting vaccination policies should refer to Circular 2021/09: COVID-19 vaccination policies in Australian Government workplaces.
Support for employees
- Where a roll-out phase or State and Territory public health order provides vaccination for a particular workforce or group, it is up to individual agencies to identify and support its relevant workforce to receive the vaccination.
- Agencies should provide the greatest support possible to assist employees in receiving a COVID-19 vaccination, including booster vaccinations, consistent with the Government’s expectations. Appropriate support measures may include providing:
- certification that particular employees fit a priority group for vaccination because of their work;
- paid time to receive vaccinations, including reasonable travel time; and
- reasonable travel expenses, where significant travel is required to access a vaccination site.
- Agencies may also wish to consider what support they may be able to offer employees with carer responsibilities.
- Employers are to provide advice and information to employees on vaccinations as it becomes available from the Commonwealth Department of Health website.
- Agencies are to continue to meet their obligations under work health and safety legislation by consulting directly with employees and their representatives on matters of workplace health and safety.
Continuation of COVID-safe practices in workplaces
- Vaccines are a critical part of Australia’s ongoing response to COVID-19 in tandem with physical distancing, hygiene and cleaning protocols, occupancy limits and modified workplace attendance arrangements. Vaccinations will complement existing prevention and control measures including those outlined in Circular 2020/9: Returning to Usual Workplaces.
- Agencies and employees are to continue monitoring public health requirements and maintain COVID-safe workplaces regardless of whether employees in the workplace are vaccinated. The Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer has confirmed the continuing importance of these measures in reducing the impact of COVID-19 on the community.
- Agencies seeking further information should send enquiries to COVID19@apsc.gov.au.