Compulsory vaccination for all staff – navigating the minefield

As each state reaches 80% vaccinated, and Premiers become brave, there will be an end to lockdowns, to be replaced by lockdowns of limited areas and individual businesses. Let’s make sure it’s not your business.

Creative design banner for Coronavirus vaccine background. Covid-19 corona virus vaccination with vaccine bottle and syringe injection tool for covid19 immunization treatment. Vector illustration.

You care about and genuinely look after your staff. Then along comes the unexpected – a pandemic, and we all need to be vaccinated for the good of the work family. The bottom line is that every business, yours, and mine included, are going to need to have a ‘No Jab, No Job’ policy. Frankly, I don’t like to be told what to do.  Yes, like many Australians I will happily volunteer to help, but mate, don’t tell me what to do.

There is always an Uncle Ron who insists on telling the same awful joke every Christmas. But it’s family and it works. The same Uncle Ron who had just left a family barbeque when we saw a news flash about a car driving the wrong way on the western freeway. My wife called her uncle. “Ron,” she said, “Be careful, a car is driving down the wrong side of the freeway.” “ONE!” exclaimed Ron, “there’s at least a hundred!”

There is a time for individual freedom and there is a time to conform. If I had an employee who insisted that it was his right to drive on the wrong side of the road, endangering the lives of others, then it’s time his license to drive was taken away.

The same logic applies to an employee who handles a forklift in an unsafe manner. A friend, Scott, who manages a freight depot has a simple no tolerance policy – unsafe practices mean instant dismissal. It was no surprise when I heard that in September, Scott had terminated eight depot staff and six drivers who refused to get vaccinated. This, when the freight business is enjoying the busiest year on record and is about to enter the Christmas crush.

My second suggestion is that having the entire workplace vaccinated is just part of your wider obligation to make work a safe environment for staff and a safe shopping experience for customers.

As each state reaches 80% vaccinated, and Premiers become brave, there will be an end to lockdowns, to be replaced by lockdowns of limited areas and individual businesses. Let’s make sure it’s not your business.

Top Tips

I asked business owners and medical professionals for their best suggestions:

The last thing you want is to be in the news as a hot spot. First, your staff would be at risk of getting sick. Or worse, and their families. You will have no sales, but staff will expect to take paid leave, so cash flow will take a hammering. Even when 14 days are over, some customers won’t be in a hurry to come back.

MASKS

  • If you are going to ask staff to wear a mask (and you should), then supply masks that work – Australian made medical grade.
  • Masks that look the same can be less than half as effective.
  • Cloth masks are even less effective.
  • Invest in looking after your team. Give them medical grade masks and ask them to take a fresh one after lunch and another to go home.
  • Wearing it on your chin, or under your nose is as about as effective as putting it in your pocket.
  • We took a team photo, all wearing masks and made it into a sign –   ‘We chose to mask up to protect you and your family. Will you please do the same for us? (Armed robbers exempted.)’ It made a difference. 
  • Leave a few masks near the door for customers to use. (Not a whole box, they get greedy!).

VACCINATIONS

  • The team all went down together to get the first jab. 
  • Don’t make a fuss about who got the jab first but do make sure that everyone knows.  
  • If 80% (of locals) decided they want the jab, then that’s also 80% of our customers.

HABITS

  • Do a stock check on the hand sanitizer every few days. If the level stops falling, it’s time to remind staff to use it every time they touch something a customer has touched.  
  • We got one of those wall mounted thermometers online. It beeps and says ‘temperature normal’. Except for the first week when the workshop boys had a ball rubbing a hot coffee cup against their forehead and setting off the warning signal.

SEPERATION 

  • Do what you can to have good airflow.
  • Small offices and the back of workshops need a fan or an open window or both.
  • A fan behind the counter pushes customer’s germs away from my staff. It seemed rude at first, but that’s the new world.  
  • We identified the EFTPOS as the highest customer contact point. We all now encourage customers to tap and have a pack of disinfectant wipes ready to wipe it down. Next time, I’ll get an EFTPOS that is linked to the terminal so there’s no need for staff to enter the sale price.

What I also learnt is that the best leaders talked through the issues with their staff, but kept the focus by repeating, ‘This is a safety issue – no more, no less’.  

By the time you read this, most of Australia will be double vaccinated. I read that half of those who remain unvaccinated, just need more encouragement. Some people don’t get around to doing their homework and with these you can get creative. Deadlines usually won’t work but peer encouragement, even assigning staff to take them down to the vaccination centre will get the job done.   

The other half, about 7%, don’t want to be told what to do and believe a wide range of conspiracy theories. Logical discussion won’t change their mind, and encouragement will fall on deaf ears.  

You now must choose to defend the 90% of your team and customers and lose those who can’t be a team player. 

In Italy it would be very easy. In mid-October, Italy expanded the Green Pass system and now all public and private sector workers are required to have at least one jab, and to show a negative COVID test taken in the last 48 hours. Those who break the rules face a fine of up to €1,500 (A$2,345) or being suspended without pay. Employers who fail to check their staff are also looking at tough fines.

Closer home, 13 Queensland Police and 7 Health Department staff who have failed to meet the jab deadline of mid-October have now taken the matter to the Supreme Court. Comments from the bench during the Directions hearing lead me to think their case hasn’t a chance of success. It could be December before we hear an outcome.  

In the US, the Biden administration has taken a different approach with Federal employees that may work for you. Employees who are not vaccinated are required to wear a mask all day at work, and to undertake a COVID test every other day.    

It sounds just like the ‘concrete’ principle, my friend the Construction Engineer used to employ. If a cement delivery had any left over from a pour, he would get it dumped in a corner of the site. Whenever a worker was to be moved on, he would simply be assigned to jackhammer the concrete, eight hours a day until it cracked, or he did. Worked every time apparently.

Big businesses – from Airlines to mining and government departments are making vaccination compulsory for the protection of their staff and their viability. They don’t fear a wrongful dismissal suit in the conditions of this pandemic, and neither should you.   

Your responsibility to the 90% of your staff, and customers and keeping them in a job means you must make the tough decisions.

Gary Fooks is chair of the Blue-Sky Alliance. Gary has been working on small engine emissions standards since 2005 and was announced as the Environment Minister’s Clean Air Champion in 2015.