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Honan details COVID vaccination risks

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Honan has produced a timely guide to help businesses understand their risk exposures amid Australia’s COVID vaccination drive.

Honan’s Employee Benefits and Workplace Risk teams produced the “Managing your Business COVID vaccination risk exposures” article which explores the latest guidelines on mandating vaccinations, the government’s no fault COVID indemnity scheme, vaccines & workers’ compensation, and impacts to premium if a worker makes a COVID-related claim.

Mandating vaccinations

Google, Facebook, Qantas and SPC have introduced a compulsory vaccination policy for staff and more companies are expected to follow suit.

The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) has set out four tiers of employee to help assess where it might be “lawful and reasonable” to mandate COVID vaccinations: Tier 1— employees interacting with high-risk people (for example border control, hotel quarantine); Tier 2— employees interacting with vulnerable people (health care or aged care workers); Tier 3— employees interacting with the public (retail workers at essential stores) and Tier 4— employees with minimal face-to-face interaction with others.

Honan says with no test cases available to show the tier system in action, the FWO guidelines “raise the question of what steps are considered reasonably practicable for employers to help keep staff safe,” and says for now this decision sits with employers.

No fault COVID indemnity scheme

The Federal Government’s national no fault COVID Vaccine Claim Scheme compensates claims related to the administration of a Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)-approved COVID vaccine via an approved program.

Australians who suffer injury and loss of income due to receiving the COVID vaccine can claims for the cost of injuries exceeding $5,000 caused by a proven adverse reaction. Independent experts will assess the claims and compensation fully funded by the Commonwealth.

COVID vaccines and workers’ compensation

Honan says several issues may increase the likelihood that a vaccine injury is covered under workers’ compensation, including whether an employer: took steps to arrange for its employees to receive a COVID vaccine, encouraged or induced its employees to receive the vaccination to obtain benefits for its business, permitted or directed employees to have a COVID vaccination during ordinary working hours; or provided instructions to employees relating to the administration of the vaccine.

“The link between a vaccine injury and the worker’s employment is easier to establish where a worker is influenced by their employer’s requirement to receive the vaccine or is subject to a Government Public Health Order,” Honan says.

The worker may also need to provide evidence they opted for a particular vaccine brand due to their employment, it says.

Impacts to premium if a worker makes a COVID-related claim

In NSW, icare has confirmed it will exclude COVID claims and COVID vaccination claims from the individual claims experience without passing on premium impact to the policyholder.

“Whether the remaining State regulators follow icare’s lead is yet to be seen, however, Honan is liaising with our regulatory contacts to understand their position,” the guide says.

Businesses are encouraged to report any COVID outbreaks directly to WorkSafe in Victoria and SIRA and consider an employee who has tested positive to COVID as having a “reportable injury”.

Communicating with employees

Honan says employers should familiarise themselves with TGA guidance on communications regarding COVID vaccinations, which includes conditions around offering incentives to people who are fully vaccinated.