What does mandatory vaccination mean for social care organisations?

Supporting your teams to be the best they can be is a balancing act.

But as our sector navigates the introduction of COVID vaccination requirements, that challenge is taken to a whole new level.

To help you through the changes, we’ve provided a summary of the latest requirements legislated across our sector, and some tips on how to support your managers in having productive, positive conversations around your workers’ COVID vaccination status.

Mandatory vaccination: does that apply to my organisation?

While getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is recommended by the state Department of Health for everyone, there are additional requirements in certain industries – including social care.

So whether you support mandatory vaccination or not, it’s important to be familiar with how the public health legislation affects your organisation to avoid legal issues such as hefty fines for noncompliance.

From 17 September 2021, people who work onsite at any residential aged care facility in NSW need to have had at least their first shot, unless they’ve received an official medical certificate explaining why it’s not safe for them.

The same will go for providers of disability care and early childhood care in local government areas of concern from 20 September 2021, and all health care workers in NSW from 30 September 2021. Health care workers will then be required to have had both their shots by 30 November 2021.

Aged care providers in home care settings (as opposed to residential facilities) aren’t currently affected by this legislation, so it’s at the providers’ discretion as to how to manage your staff in this matter.

What happens if my organisation doesn’t comply?

The process of verifying the vaccination status of your workforce can be tricky, but it’s important to move swiftly.

Failure to comply with these latest public health orders can leave your organisation liable to a fine of $55,000 with an additional $27,500 for each day after that where insufficiently vaccinated staff are on the premises.

Can we require our staff to get vaccinated as a company policy? 

If the public health orders don’t mandate vaccination for your organisation (or your entire organisation), be cautious about mandating vaccination internally.

If you do require your staff to get the vaccine, make sure to provide reasonable adjustments and caveats for workers with medical contraindications and/or issues regarding access to the vaccine to avoid legal liability under federal anti-discrimination laws.

Having the vaccination conversation

Whether your staff are on board, hesitant, or there’s mixed views across your teams, it’s important to take the time to understand where everyone’s coming from.

It could be worth equipping your team leaders and unit managers with training and resources to guide them in how to sensitively broach the topic with staff.

This training could cover common reasons why people support or are hesitant about getting the vaccination, and equip managers with objective resources and facts from reliable sources. This can help foster empathy and understanding between staff in engaging with various questions or concerns which may arise.

It could even be worth setting up a dedicated ‘resource hub’ page for staff to access information from trustworthy sources online, and send out emails explaining what’s going on clearly.

In some situations, communicating the fact that the organisation could face tens of thousands of dollars of fines for noncompliance may also help employees comprehend the gravity of the situation and hence imperative to move swiftly.

It’s also important to be aware of the discourse around vaccination requirements in your workforce as it evolves. For example, if staff are happy to be vaccinated as individuals but uneasy about it becoming a requirement, regularly equip team leaders to speak into these discussions.

Remember that certain workers may require more support than others through this time, so be aware of factors such as cultural and linguistic diversity which could be impeding communication across your workforce.

Supporting managers in leading their teams through this time is critical, as they are communicating the company’s perspective to your staff. It’s vital these managers are given adequate support, resources and space to be heard, listened to and validated through the process.

Providing this support could be a matter of setting up a regular check-in meeting with team leaders. This could be a time for managers, supervisors and the like to ask questions, share experiences, troubleshoot issues and brainstorm solutions collaboratively.

Ethical practices in collecting employees’ data

Any personal information you collect from staff – no matter how politically charged – ought to be treated sensitively.

Providing a secure and confidential way for your workers to disclose their vaccination status is imperative.

One way to gather and store this data is via a secure online portal, which your IT staff should be able to set up.

Ask staff to log in to the portal and upload either their certificate of vaccination or their official medical contraindication form.

Provide clear instructions and links on how to access your vaccination certificate and how to confidentially upload it to your company’s secure online portal (or whatever system you choose).

Remember, some workers may need some one-on-one connection to navigate this process and get their concerns addressed, particularly where they’re less familiar with technology. So it could also be worth providing a physical medium for them to print out and hand in their certificate in case that helps.

Reach out to staff members who are slow to disclose their vaccination status in case they need help uploading their documentation. Make the time to discuss what’s going on for them, and really listen empathetically – while also presenting the facts.

Ultimately, we’ve all got to be prepared that some people will get it, others won’t straight away, and others won’t ever… and that’s ok.

How are you preparing your workplace for vaccination requirements and conversations? Join the discussion and share your thoughts on our LinkedIn profile. 

Please note: This information in no way constitutes legal advice. For more information and to check the latest requirements for your organisation, head to: https://www.nsw.gov.au/covid-19/health-and-wellbeing/covid-19-vaccination-nsw/vaccination-for-workers#

 

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