While the vast majority of large Australian businesses have landed on policies requiring workers to have received the COVID-19 vaccine before returning to in-person work, others have sought loopholes to ensure employees can remain with the company.
Some corporates have chosen to take advantage of the move toward flexible work as a way to retain staff who may have otherwise been forced to leave the company.
An investigation into the vaccination policies of more than 60 of the country’s largest workplaces by The Age and Sydney Morning Herald revealed the vast majority had fallen on the side of mandates as Australia’s two biggest cities reopen and organisations bring people back into the office.
While the public sector, including aged care and healthcare workers, along with the construction industry have been compelled to be fully vaccinated to continue working, private companies have been slower to take a firm stance.
In August, as some organisations, notably canned goods giant SPC, announced it would be mandating COVID-19 vaccines for its employees, others including Qantas pushed for the government to step in to mandate jabs for staff, arguing companies should not have to manage enforcement.
Facebook’s Australian management and Lendlease told Business Insider Australia at the time they were still assessing vaccination requirements and did not yet have a public position around what this would look like.
The Age and Sydney Morning Herald found that 46 of the 60 companies surveyed said a double vaccination would be a requirement for at least part of their workforce, stating they arrived at this policy because of either government laws making vaccines compulsory or because they decided certain roles present additional health risks to staff and patrons.
Of the 60, it found 22 businesses had arrived at more comprehensive policies that compel frontline staff and visitors to be double vaccinated before they can interact with the business in person.
And while some organisations including Bunnings have already reported a small number of employees plan to quit over opposition to vaccination, a small subset of companies are negotiating ways to retain employees with a variety of reasons for remaining unvaccinated.
Commercial property firm Goodman group said it will allow unvaccinated employees to continue to work for the company from home, provided they were part of fully remote teams.
“We encourage and support people to work from home, within a hybrid working model, which is our default position,” a spokesperson for the company told Business Insider Australia.
It noted that a recent staff survey in Australia projected its staff vaccination rate would be just over 90% by the end of the year, meaning it would only have to manage a very small proportion of its workforce in alternative arrangements.
Additionally it said “the ability for unvaccinated workers to return to the office will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.”
Similarly, ANZ revealed while vaccination was not conditional to employment, it planned to follow government mandates.
“At this stage, we are not requiring our employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of employment, except where there is a government requirement that we do so,” an ANZ spokesperson told Business Insider Australia.
The company asserted its position that the “authorities are in the best position to determine if and when mandates should be applied”, pointing out its workforce was already 91% vaccinated.
And while it is working with federal and NSW governments to enable a pilot vaccine program at some of its NSW branches, it maintains the vast majority of its employees will continue to be able to work from home.
“We assess this on an ongoing basis and in line with relevant government and health advice,” the spokesperson said.
The vast majority of Australia’s biggest companies have announced conditional vaccination mandates, where the rules apply to workers most likely to interact with members of the public.
A Telstra spokesperson told Business Insider Australia it had landed on a policy that requires employees who are “regularly interacting with customers or other employees because you cannot perform your role from home” to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in the coming weeks.
“We have decided that there are some roles where there is a heightened risk of infection due to the nature of the work performed and regular contact with others,” the spokesperson said.
Like many organisations with a majority office-based workforce, it said updates to its flexible work policy meant many workers would likely be able to continue to be employed without having to comply with the mandate.
Managing unvaccinated employees on a ‘case-by-case’ basis
Many companies also suggested termination of employment would potentially be a path for staff who don’t comply and didn’t have a valid medical exemption.
These include CSL, Sonic Healthcare BHP, Newcrest, Medibank, Bendigo & Adelaide Bank and mining company IGO.
Bendigo & Adelaide Bank told Business Insider Australia it recently made the decision to implement a COVID-19 vaccine policy for all its employees that will require them to be vaccinated by February 1, 2022, and that the bank was “actively consulting with our staff” on the policy and its rollout.
It told The Age and Sydney Morning Herald when its workers were brought back into the office it is likely some staff not complying with the policy would no longer be able to work at the company.
“We will work closely on a case-by-case basis with staff who choose not to comply with our proposed policy (without an exemption). In circumstances where we are unable to satisfactorily resolve the matter, it may result in the termination of the staff member’s employment,” the spokesperson said.