20 October 2021 posted by Recovery Partners

Returning to Work post-lockdown restrictions

Returning to Work post-lockdown is inevitable, with Australia’s first doses vaccine rate reaching 80 per cent for eligible populations. This ‘milestone’ has prompted reopening discussions and a relaxation of restrictions. But what does that look like for businesses and their employees? Are there any risk mitigation strategies to avoid the spread of infection? 

Vaccination in the workplace

Scientific evidence suggests COVID vaccines reduce the rate of transmission. Vaccination in the workplace should be included within your business reopening plan. Both the NSW and VIC governments have released roadmaps out of lockdown restrictions for fully vaccinated people.

What does fully vaccinated mean?

A fully vaccinated person has received 2 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine from a list of approved vaccines, or has a medical contraindication certificate (in the approved form) that has been issued.

Managing Director of Workplace Law, Athena Koelmeyer, helps highlight why the definition of “fully vaccinated” is so significant.

“This is super important for disability discrimination reasons. Some employers are very enthusiastic about rolling out a policy that everyone has to be fully vaxxed. Just note that in your considerations of requiring vaccinations…if you are an organisation who has control over whether or not you choose to implement a policy like that, just bear that in mind,” Athena says.

A key speaker of our Life After Lockdown event, Athena and her team at Workplace Law provide expert advice for employers in all areas of workplace relations, employment law, industrial disputes, discrimination law and work health safety.

Current roadmaps require that certain settings and businesses are open to only fully vaccinated persons. This means that some employers are responsible for the requirement for fully vaccinated people entering their workplaces. This applies to:

  • employees
  • clients
  • customers
  • contractors
  • other visitors

Employers should check public health orders which may apply to any of their employees. They must not allow the employee to return to work until they are fully vaccinated. However, no vaccination requirement will apply for workplace settings that are not specified in the public health orders.

Can employers mandate the vaccine?

To date, the government has mandated specific industries that require employees to be vaccinated. An employer must uphold that their employees are vaccinated if their industry has been mandated.

COVID-19 Safety plan

All businesses should implement safety plans relating to managing the risks of COVID-19 in the workplace, regardless of whether a business is affected by the state roadmaps or not. You might want to consider mitigating workplace risk with a Risk Assessment.

In New South Wales, certain businesses must have a COVID-19 safety plan which addresses the matters required by the approved COVID-19 Safety Checklist.  See NSW Covid Safety plans.

In Victoria, all businesses with on-site operations must have a COVIDSafe Plan. See downloadable COVIDSafe Plan templates.

Returning to work COVID Safety Steps

  1. Check the vaccination status of customers and other visitors.
    Have clear signage and messaging about the legal requirements to check-in. Signage should disclose that entry is for fully-vaccinated people. Place this out the front of physical premises or at each entry point, on websites or social media pages, or in a click and acknowledge box for reservations or bookings.

    Remember, vaccination status or reason for exemption is a collection of sensitive health information… ensure that your privacy policy is up to date”, Athena advises.

  1. Comply with Capacity limits.
    Seek to implement bookings and reservations that comply with spatial restrictions. Your business can control the density levels in the premises and disclose any conditions of entry policy prior to customers or visitors attending the premises.
  1. Maintain good hygiene disciplines such as mask wearing, sanitising and social distancing.
  1. Use a Safe Work Method Statement for COVID-19 Decontamination.
    If your workplace is exposed to COVID-19, this document will outline the steps required to safely decontaminate a room that has been occupied by one or more persons suspected or confirmed of having COVID-19.

Finally, discuss your strategy with your employees.
“Communication and a clear plan will reduce your employee’s anxiety. Certainly our experience in the back to work period between lockdowns, bears that out. There was lack of preparedness for people to get thrown back into just what they did before” Athena recalls. 

Don’t be unprepared. Having a plan reduces the spread of infection and workplace anxiety.

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Disclaimer – these articles are provided to supply general safety information to people responsible for OHS in their organisation. They are general in nature and do not substitute for legal and/or professional advice. We always suggest that organisations obtain information specific to their needs. Additional information can be found at https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/