COVID-19 (coronavirus)


Click here to jump straight to information and resources for MEAA members


With Sydney under a full lockdown and venue capacity restrictions in other states due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many people in the entertainment industry are still unable to work.

This isn’t over for us. We need COVID Disaster Payments from the Federal Government until venues are back at 100% capacity and we can work as normal.

Ignoring the needs of arts and entertainment workers yet again is not good enough.

Our first step to ensuring we’re supported is to ask.

First, send an email to Treasurer Josh Frydenberg using this simple tool.

Then share the link to this page, encouraging your colleagues and friends to add their voice and speak up for creative industry workers.

Don’t forget to tag Josh Frydenberg (Twitter: @JoshFrydenberg; Facebook: @JoshFrydenbergMP) and MEAA (Facebook and Twitter: @withMEAA) on anything you post so we can get traction!

The more of us who let Frydenberg know what we need and what we’re facing, the more we won’t be able to be ignored.


Spread the word:

Facebook share iconTwitter share icon Email share icon

 

or share this page.

Income support measures

Following is a summary of the various income support measures available from the Federal Government and the New South Wales Government for individuals and businesses.

Federal Government COVID-19 Disaster Payment

The COVID-19 Disaster Payment is a one-off lump sum payment for employees unable to earn income due to the COVID-19 state public health order. The payments have recently been restructured and grouped into information by state. The key changes mean that:

•  If you’ve lost from 8-20 hours of work per week, you can now receive $450 per week.
•  If you’ve lost a full-day’s work per week, you can now receive $450 per week.
•  If you lost 20 hours or more of work per week, you can now receive $750 per week.
•  The COVID-19 Disaster Payment is a taxable payment. This means you’ll need to include it in your income tax return.
•  You just need a Centerlink account that is linked to your “myGov” account.

While this is an improvement, the Federal Government must provide income support for live performance workers until capacity at venues is 100%, not just when a lockdown ends. To add your voice to the call on the Federal Government to do the right thing, sign our petition above.

If you are forced to take time off work to quarantine, self-isolate or care for someone else with COVID, you may also be able to apply for a special pandemic leave payment of $1500 a fortnight.

More information: Getting help during coronavirus (COVID-19) – Claim a payment | Services Australia

NSW financial assistance packages

Here are a range of financial assistance packages that are available from the New South Wales Government to applicants in NSW, not just Greater Sydney, who can show eligibility.

 JobSaver

•  An ongoing fortnightly payment is available to help maintain employee headcount and provide cashflow support to businesses, sole traders and non-for-profit organisations with a turnover between $75,000 and $50 million that have experienced a revenue decline of 30% or more.
•  The fortnightly payment amount is determined for employing businesses by 40% of their weekly payroll (minimum payment of $1500 and maximum payment of $10,000 per week).
•  Weekly payroll should generally be determined by referring to the most recent Business Activity Statement (BAS) provided to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) before 26 June 2021 for the 2020-21 financial year.
•  For non-employing businesses, the fortnightly payment is $1000 a week.
•  Applications opened on July 18.
•  Applications will close at 11.59pm on October 18.

More information: COVID-19 business support – 2021 | Service NSW

Micro-Business Support Grant

•  An ongoing fortnightly payment of $1500 for small businesses, sole traders and not-for-profit organisations with a turnover between $30,000 and $75,000, who have experienced a revenue decline of 30% or more, due to the current Greater Sydney COVID-19 restrictions.
•  The 2021 COVID-19 micro-business grant provides cashflow support for micro-businesses in NSW who have had their work impacted by the restrictions while continuing to incur business costs.
•  Eligible applicants can use the grant for business costs incurred from June 1 and for which no other government support is available.
•  Eligible businesses also must demonstrate the primary source of income for a person associated with the business.
•  Applications opened on June 1.
•  Applications will close at 11.59pm on October 18.

More information: COVID-19 business support – 2021 | Service NSW

 Business Support Grant

•  One-off grants of $7500, $10,500 or $15,000 are available for NSW businesses and sole traders, who had a turnover of more than $75,000 per annum for the year ending June 30, 2020.
•  Businesses and sole traders must be able to demonstrate their business was operating in NSW as at June 1.
•  The grant provides support for businesses that experienced reduced demand or had to close due to public health orders.
•  Different grant amounts are available depending on the decline in turnover experienced during the lockdown.
•  Applications opened on July 26.
•  Applications will close at 11.59pm on September 13.

More information: Apply for the 2021 COVID-19 business grant | Service NSW

 Small Business Fee & Charge Rebate

•  This is not a grant, rather it’s a rebate.
•  A rebate worth $1500 is available from the NSW Government to help small businesses, sole traders and non-for-profit organisations pay for government fees and charges.
•  To be eligible for this rebate, small businesses (including non-employing sole traders) and not-for-profit organisations must have a total of Australian wages below the NSW Government 2020-2021 payroll tax threshold of $1.2 million and have an Australian Business Number (ABN) registered in NSW and/or have business premises physically located and operating in NSW.
•  Only one $1500 rebate is available for each ABN and therefore multiple claims can be made until the full value of $1500 is reached.
•  The rebate is payable from March 1, 2021.
•  The rebate will be available until June 30, 2022.
•  You can apply for this rebate through Service NSW.

More information: Apply for the small business fees and charges rebate | Service NSW

Likely documents required

Depending on what financial assistance is required, as a starting point, the following documentation should be considered:

  1.  A MyServiceNSW account
  2. A Centerlink account
  3. A myGov account (preferrably linked to a Centrelink account)
  4. Proof of identity
  5. Valid ABN/ACN number
  6. Your business banking details for payment
  7. Evidence of annual turnover and loss of income
  8. Financial statements, including balance sheet, profit & loss & cash slow statements
  9. A Business Activity Statement (BAS)
  10. Australian income tax return or Notice of Assessment.

 

Helpful links for small business financial support

•  Service NSW Business Concierge, advice for small businesses
•  COVID 19 Assistance Finder (Service NSW)
•  NSW Government Grants and Loans
•  NSW Government 2021 COVID 19 Support Package


Counselling and medical assistance

The Equity Wellness page on this website has a range of resources, including a database of GPs, Psychiatrists and Psychologists who have self-identified as having a special interest in or affiliation with the arts and/or artists.

Counselling services include:

•  beyondblue: aims to increase awareness of depression and anxiety and reduce stigma. 1300 22 4636, 24 hours/seven days a week.
•  Lifeline: 24-hour crisis counselling, support groups and suicide prevention services. 13 11 14.
•  SANE Australia: support, training and education enabling those with a mental illness to lead a better life. 1800 18 7263, 10am-10pm AEST (Mon-Fri).

For a full list of mental health counselling services go to this page.


Benevolent funds

MEAA has relationships with several benevolent and support funds which have been established to help members of our industries who are in need.

Actors Benevolent Fund of NSW
actorsbenevolentfund.org.au
Phone: 02 9333 0915
Email: info@actorsbenevolentfund.org.au

Actors & Entertainers Benevolent Fund (QLD)
abfqld.com.au
Phone: 07 3846 0044
Email: info@abfqld.com.au

Victorian Actors Benevolent Trust
vabt.com.au
Phone: 0411 524 929
Email: enquiries@vabt.com.au

Artist Relief Fund WA
artistreliefwa.org.au
Email: apply@artistreliefwa.org.au

New Zealand Actors Benevolent Fund
nzabf.org.nz

NSW Journalists Benevolent Fund

The NSW Journalists Benevolent Fund is managed by a group of trustees and is affiliated with the Media section of MEAA. The trustees meet regularly to review applications and status of their investment portfolio. Donations and bequests can be made online at: nswjbf.org

Queensland Journalists Benevolent Fund

The Queensland Journalists Benevolent Fund exists to support journalists in need. Requests for support can be sent to Queensland Media branch president Peter McCutcheon.

Victorian Media Section Benevolent Fund

The Victorian Media Section Benevolent Fund exists to support journalists in circumstances of extreme financial distress. Requests for support can be sent to Victorian Media Section Branch President Marisa Wikramanayake

Canberra Journalists Benevolent Fund

The Canberra Journalists Benevolent Fund provides grants or interest-free loans to journalist members of the ACT Branch experiencing financial hardship and, at the discretion of the trustees, can pay a benefit to the next of kin of a deceased member or former member.  Contact Michael White with requests for support.


Other Support Funds that may assist MEAA members

Support Act is a fund that exists to assist singers, songwriters, composers, musicians, roadies, techies, managers and staffers. This Fund is not connected with MEAA, though many MEAA members would be able to make an application for assistance. Donations and bequests can be made online at: supportact.org.au

Entertainment Assist aims to assist people working in the entertainment industry, particularly those with mental health issues. The MEAA Equity Director sits on the board of Entertainment Assist. Donations and bequests can be made online at: entertainmentassist.org.au/ocd.aspx

MEAA’s National Industrial Team has produced this fact sheet to answer all your questions about coronavirus.

Cancellations and stand down

What if my workplace shuts down? Can I be stood down without pay?

MEAA’s view is that a workplace shut down should be the last resort for employers, only to be utilised where a closure or cancellation is unavoidable and outside of the employer’s control.

Before entering into a workplace shutdown, employers should consult with employees and the union and discuss the effect of the shut down on employees and measures to reduce adverse effects of the shutdown.

If a workplace is shut down due to COVID-19, best practice would be for employers to pay workers during shut down to minimise the impact on the workers although we note this is not legally enforceable.

However, employees need to be aware that section 524 of the Fair Work Act states that if an employee cannot be usefully employed, and the stoppage of work (or a shut down) is outside of the employer’s control, the employer is not required to pay employees that are stood down.

If you are covered by an enterprise agreement, other provisions may apply (though most EAs do not have alternate shut-down provisions). If you are covered by a contract, refer to the contract to see if it contains a “force majeure” or “Act of God” clause, because this may affect your legal entitlements.

If employers decide to shut down in accordance with section 524, MEAA will consider asking for the employer or government funders of the employer to pay employees during a shut down.

Unions are seeking that the federal government provide necessary financial support, including additional paid leave to workers, so that workers can meet immediate needs.

If you are stood down without pay, you can contact the MEAA for advice on your specific circumstances.

What if a producer or employer cancels a performance or tour – will I still get paid out the full amount of my contract?

Permanent employees – In normal circumstances, if a producer cancels a tour and it is within the cancellation period, you may be paid out in accordance with your contract which may provide for either payment in full, cancellation fees or notice periods.

Please refer to the contract to see if it has specific terms about a shutdown of “force majeure” or “Act of God”. This means that if the reason for the closure is beyond the control of the employer, they may argue that they are not required to pay their workers the full amount of the contract.

If a section 524 stand down applies, you are not lawfully required to be paid.

Casual employees – As casual employees are engaged on an hourly or daily basis, it is not likely to be paid out beyond this engagement. However please check your contract or terms of engagement. Some enterprise agreements will have roster cancellation notice periods which may apply.

MEAA is advocating for employers to mitigate the losses to casual employees by honouring payments for rostered shifts, notice periods and other ongoing payments where applicable.

Payment of leave

Do I get paid leave to take time off to self-isolate?

Where possible, employers should make provisions for you to work from home. However, we recognise this is not likely to be feasible for some workers such as performers and production crew.

Permanent employees – In the event an employee is directed by the employer to self-isolate, MEAA’s position is that the employer should continue to pay the employee “special leave”. Special leave is the term given to paid leave that is provided in addition to legal entitlements including annual and personal leave.

Casual employees – Casual workers have no legal entitlement to paid sick leave. However, unions are advocating for workers including casuals to be granted paid “special leave” by employers to minimise the financial impact of COVID-19. We are asking employers to grant paid leave due to the significant public health risk should employees be forced to come to work for financial reasons. Employers should provide paid leave to ensure that there are no barriers or disincentives to self-report, which in turn would assist in minimising risk to others. Some employers are already doing this.

Independent contractors – Like casuals, paid leave generally does not apply to independent contractors; however, again we are asking employers to pay discretionary amounts to mitigate losses to contractors.

Do I get paid leave if I suspect I may have COVID-19 (self-exclusion)?

This is a more complex issue. If you take time off because you fear that you may have contracted COVID-19, it is advisable to seek medical advice immediately and obtain a doctor issued medical certificate to provide to your employer.

Permanent employees – If an employer directs you to remain at home until you have medical clearance, then your employer should continue to pay your wages. If you are unwell, and have enough personal leave remaining then you should be paid personal leave for the time off work. However, unions are advocating for workers including casuals to be granted paid “special leave” by employers to minimise the financial impact of COVID-19. We are asking employers to grant paid leave due to the significant public health risk should employees be forced to come to work for financial reasons. Employers should provide paid leave to ensure that there are no barriers or disincentives to self-report, which in turn would assist in minimising risk to others. Some employers are already doing this.

Casual employees – Casual workers have no legal entitlement to paid sick leave. However, unions are advocating for workers including casuals to be granted paid “special leave” by employers to minimise the financial impact of COVID-19. We are asking employers to grant paid leave due to the significant public health risk should employees be forced to come to work for financial reasons. Employers should provide paid leave to ensure that there are no barriers or disincentives to self-report, which in turn would assist in minimising risk to others. Some employers are already doing this. You cannot be discriminated against if you are absent from work for having an illness.

Independent contractors – Paid leave generally does not apply to independent contractors, however please check the terms of your contract.

Do I get paid to take time off to care for family members who may be affected by illness?

Permanent employees – You can access paid carer’s leave to care for any immediate family member affected by an illness, which comes out of your personal leave accrual.

Casual employees – Casual workers have no legal entitlement to paid carer’s leave. However, unions are advocating for workers including casuals to be granted paid “special leave” by employers to minimise the financial impact of COVID-19. We are asking employers to grant paid leave due to the significant public health risk should employees be forced to come to work for financial reasons. Employers should provide paid leave to ensure that there are no barriers or disincentives to self-report, which in turn would assist in minimising risk to others. Some employers are already doing this.You must advise the employer that you are taking the time off for that reason immediately and may need to provide evidence that your family member is sick. You cannot be discriminated against for taking time off to care for immediate family members.

Independent contractors – Paid leave generally does not apply to independent contractors, however please check the terms of your contract.

I don’t have enough sick leave accrued to cover me if I need to take time off due to illness – what will happen?

Permanent employees – If you are a permanent worker and become unwell and have run out of accrued paid personal leave you may seek to access your annual leave or unpaid personal leave.

Casual employees – Paid sick leave does not apply to casual workers.

Independent contractors – Paid sick leave generally does not apply to independent contractors, however please check the terms of your contract.

Unions are advocating for workers including casuals and contractors to be granted paid “special leave” by employers to minimise the financial impact of COVID-19. This is not a legal entitlement but we are asking employers to grant this given the significant public health risk should employees be forced to come to work for financial reasons. Employers should provide paid leave to ensure that there are no barriers or disincentives to self-report, which in turn would assist in minimising risk to others. Some employers are already doing this.

You cannot be discriminated against if you are absent from work for having an illness.

Workers’ compensation may be a consideration should you contract the disease in connection with your employment. However, this may be difficult to prove if the virus becomes widespread within the community. As this is an uncharted application of workers compensation law – we can’t advise on it specifically but you can speak with a workers compensation lawyer.

This is now impacting my ability to make a living – what can I expect from existing or future employers in relation to work I’ve committed to later in the year?

The COVID-19 situation is changing rapidly. The impact and spread of the virus is still uncertain. Unions will be seeking that the federal government provide necessary financial support to make sure workers can meet immediate needs, reduce further risk to coworkers and for the overall benefit to the economy.

Personal health and safety

I’ve been in contact with someone who has been in contact with someone else who has tested positive for the virus. What should I do?

As of March 15, 2020, NSW Health advises the following course of action.

If you have been in contact with a person identified as a close contact of another person with confirmed COVID-19 infection, you do not need to self-isolate (although the close contact does) and don’t need to take any other special precautions.

If a close contact develops symptoms and is confirmed as a COVID-19 case, public health authorities will determine who, if anyone, has been in close contact with them while they were infectious, and these people will be directed to self-isolate.

Check federal and state/territories health department websites for the latest information.

What happens if there is a reported case on my production?

If you have become aware that there is a reported case of COVID-19 in the workplace — whether it be a fellow worker or an audience member — your employer must take steps to protect workers from exposure and provide a healthy and safe workplace. The following advice applies to all workers including permanent, casual and contractors. Independent contractors are considered ‘workers’ under work health and safety legislation and are entitled to the same consideration as employees in these circumstances.

We recommend that you ask your employer to provide information on the section or department the person was working in, so that you can determine your proximity to the person who has been diagnosed and what measures they intend to implement.

Employers have an obligation to provide information and training to workers regarding potential health risks. Employers also have obligations to ensure that co-workers are not exposed to known cases or contacts and will be required to provide any contacts of cases to public health authorities.

Workers have obligations to take reasonable care that their acts or omissions do not adversely affect other colleagues (for example, by failing to observe health department advice or recommendations).

Under Work Health and Safety legislation, you have the right to refuse to carry out, or cease work, if you have a reasonable concern that the work would expose you to a serious risk to your health and safety, emanating from an immediate or imminent exposure to a hazard. A serious risk could mean the risk of coming into contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19, however, it may not include a ‘suspected case’. If your employer is requiring you to work in circumstances where you think you are exposed to serious risk, please contact your elected Health and Safety Representative (“HSR”) or the MEAA.

Can I be sacked for refusing to attend work?

Under Work Health and Safety legislation, all workers have the right to refuse to carry out, or cease work, if you have a reasonable concern that the work would expose you to a serious risk to your health and safety, emanating from an immediate or imminent exposure to a hazard. A serious risk could mean the risk of coming into contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19, however, it may not include a ‘suspected case’.

However, it is very important to obtain advice before refusing to attend work, and communicate with your employer in writing should you need to stay home. If your employer refuses to permit you to stay home, seek advice.

Permanent employees – If you are a permanent employee and you obtain a medical certificate because you feel unwell, whether physically or psychologically, your employer cannot lawfully terminate your employment because you are sick.

Seek advice about your particular circumstances before refusing work where your employer is requiring you to continue.

Casual employees – If you are a casual employee and you obtain a medical certificate because you feel unwell, either physically or psychologically, your employer cannot legally terminate your employment for that reason, however there is no legal requirement that you be paid.

While casual employment is an insecure form of work, an employer cannot discriminate against you because you have caring obligations for an immediate family member.

Independent contractors – Please check the terms of your contract. Best practice would be to speak to your employer about how to manage the situation. Employers have the same obligation to you to provide a safe and healthy workplace and cannot discriminate against you for exercising your right to a safe workplace.

I have an underlying health condition that puts me at higher risk – what should I do? Is my employer required to do more for me?

Some workers — such as older workers, people with chronic health conditions and those who are immuno-compromised — may be at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. As the situation with the spread and behaviour of the virus is yet unknown, it is wise to consult regularly with your doctor and seek medical advice about the various risks of attending work and how to take all necessary precautions to avoid exposure. Your doctor can write a medical certificate should they believe you should either work from home, or not attend work at all, if working from home is not a possibility. Unions will seek that special leave be granted for high risk workers and the MEAA can advise on a case-by-case basis if needs be.

How does this affect work-related international travel?

Do I have the right to refuse to travel for work?

Under Australian Work Health and Safety legislation you have the right to refuse to carry out, or cease work if you have a reasonable concern that the work would expose you to a serious risk from an immediate or imminent exposure to a hazard. A serious risk would mean the risk of coming into contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19, however, it may not include a ‘suspected case’. This applies to all categories of workers i.e. permanent, casual and independent contractors.

If I refuse to work, will I still get paid out the full amount of my contract?

Permanent employees – Seek advice if your employer does not consent to ceasing at-risk duties including travel. Whether you get paid would depend on the terms of your contract, how much notice you provided and the particular circumstances of your case.

Casual employees – As casual employees are engaged on an hourly or daily basis, it is  not likely to be paid out beyond this engagement.

Independent contractors – Whether you get paid would depend on the terms of your contract, and how much notice you provided.

How do I keep up-to-date with the situation changing so rapidly in relation to COVID-19?

The Australian Government Department of Health releases the latest information and advice on their website. Please refer to the site for regular official updates and for details on how to reduce your risk of contracting COVID-19.

State/territory specific information can be found here:

•  Australian Capital Territory
•  New South Wales
•  Queensland
•  South Australia
•  Tasmania
•  Victoria
•  Western Australia

Icon

COVID-19 and your rights at work: A MEAA fact sheet

1.50 MB 237 downloads
Last update: March 19, 2020

MEAA has worked with other industry stakholders to develop safety guidelines for the screen and live performance sectors.

Screen production industry COVID-safe guidelines and resources are available here.

Information about the Live performance COVID-19 guidelines is available here.

What is COVID -19 – Coronavirus?

Coronavirus is a group of viruses which normally cause mild illness, with symptoms similar to a common cold. A new strain, COVID-19 was first identified in December 2019 in Hubei Province, China.

It is very different from, and more serious than, the usual seasonal influenza outbreaks that happen every year.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms can include a fever, fatigue, dry cough, difficulty breathing and will be accompanied by a fever. Symptoms take an average of 5 days to begin – this differs to flu viruses which tend to incubate very quickly. The virus is transmitted by breathing in droplets that go into the air during coughing and sneezing. The virus needs to be in living beings to survive however, it will survive on surfaces and appropriate cleaning and disinfectant should be applied.

Over 80% of people infected with COVID 19 will experience mild symptoms similar to the common cold and may not be aware that they have the virus – this is one of the reasons it spreads easily. A smaller group [15%] will experience more severe symptoms with a minority [5%] suffering from pneumonia.

At risk people?

The illness is more severe in older people [over 65 years] or people who chronic diseases such as heart and lung conditions. About 5% of infected people will have a “flu” like illness. It appears that children get very mild symptoms. As this is a new virus the health information is continually being updated. 

How does it spread?

The main way the virus spreads is by contamination when someone carrying the virus coughs or sneezes. The air droplets are breathed in by another person or can be transferred to another person

Before going to a doctor or hospital, which are under strain from the large numbers of patients needing treatment for coronavirus and related illnesses, you should conduct a self-assessment. This guide has been produced by the Victorian Deparment of Health.

Source: ACTU Coronvirus Updates.

As the vaccination roll-out continues across Australia, we know that thousands of MEAA members have opted to be vaccinated.

In the past month, our representative bodies have come together to consider the position the union should put to members about vaccinations for work purposes.

The clear view of MEAA is that workers in our industries should be vaccinated where it is reasonable and safe to do so.

MEAA believes that the collective good and the vibrant future of our industries are best served by vaccination and the expert guidance of the Australian medical community.

During this time of change, we think it’s important for you to understand your employment rights, to know where you stand and what you can do.

If you would like more information about your rights and obligations as an employee/contractor during this period, please do not hesitate to contact MEAA.

What is MEAA’s position on vaccination in the workplace?

The clear view of MEAA is that workers in our industries should be vaccinated where it is reasonable and safe to do so.

There are different considerations in every workplace.

Your employer has a duty of care to you and your work colleagues, as well as the public.  They must provide a safe workplace for you and your colleagues, as well as the public that may use that workplace. They also have a duty to not endanger the welfare of the audiences they serve. The best means of achieving this is to ensure very high levels of vaccination against coronavirus throughout the workforce.

Employers cannot rush this process. They must engage with employees and contractors and explain their situation respectfully and provide you with the resources you ask for.

Consultation is critical to ensure we are all informed and moving in the right direction.

MEAA supports vaccination, so that:

•  Members have a significantly lesser chance of contracting coronavirus.
•  Members have a significantly lesser chance of being hospitalised and intubated, where the coronavirus is contracted.
•  Members can work in the knowledge that their colleagues are vaccinated and there is a markedly reduced chance the coronavirus can be transmitted.
•  The industry projects a message that the public we entertain should feel safe when attending performances and worksites.

What about people/members who can’t safely be vaccinated?

MEAA has members who are immunocompromised and/or who have other conditions which makes receiving the vaccine dangerous to their health. These members cannot be left behind. In the first instance, workers who cannot be safely vaccinated should be provided with personal protective equipment where it can be incorporated into their work practices.

We are talking with industry leaders about their duty not to discriminate against workers who can’t safely be vaccinated and to ensure their welfare while risk levels require a vaccinated workforce.  MEAA will assist members with advice about discrimination laws and claims.

What about conscientious objectors?

The only way our industries will be revived and remain viable in the long term, is if the best medical advice is followed. That advice is that everyone who can be safely vaccinated, should be vaccinated.

Does this mean MEAA won’t help me if I object to vaccination?

If you object to being vaccinated on principle, MEAA will professionally and respectfully represent your interests. We know that all cases have to be dealt with on their own facts. You should contact MEAA for assistance if you think a direction to be vaccinated is unacceptable and/or compromises your welfare.

Can employers make employees take the vaccine?

An employer cannot make anyone take a medication or receive treatment. The issue really is: are there consequences if I refuse to be vaccinated?

At the moment, we know that:

1.  Employers have a prevailing duty of care to all users of their premises.
2.  Employers cannot assume that they can direct employees to take the vaccine under any circumstances.
3.  Employers who do direct employees to take the vaccine will need to demonstrate that it is a lawful and reasonable direction, which will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Governments have so far left it to individual employers to determine. Much will depend on your working situation.

If you are in regular contact with colleagues and/or the public, there is a strong argument that a direction to be vaccinated will be considered reasonable and lawful, but only a court or tribunal can establish this in the absence of laws compelling vaccination.

If you work alone and have no contact with others, a direction to be vaccinated may not be seen as reasonable or lawful.

When is a direction to take the vaccine lawful and reasonable?

You need to consider the individual circumstances of the business and the kind of work being performed. Some relevant factors include whether:

1.  The nature of the work carried out by the employee and the business is relevant. For example, does the employer’s business involve circumstances which give rise to risks relating to coronavirus transmission?
2.  The vaccine is required in order for the employer to meet their legal work health and safety obligations.
3.  The vaccination is an inherent requirement of the employee’s role.
4.  It is discriminatory to require certain employees to receive the vaccine (e.g. due to religious beliefs or health requirements).
5.  What alternative arrangements can be put in place to reasonably manage the risk relating to employees, who do not have the vaccine (e.g. working from home)?

In some circumstances it may be obvious when it is a lawful and reasonable direction in relation to the vaccine. For example, where employees have close and regular contact with other colleagues or the public or vulnerable classes of people, such as in direct care roles, or emergency workers.

However, for many Australian businesses, including in MEAA’s areas of operation, such a determination may not be so clear, and care will need to be taken.

Is there an alternative to providing a direction to employees?

 Yes.  Employers have a range of reasonable options available to them, such as:

1.  Incentivising employees to take the vaccine willingly, for example, by providing paid time off for the employee to take the vaccine, or allowing it to be administered during working hours.
2.  Considering alternative working arrangements for employees who do not wish to take the vaccine, and for who it would be unlikely that a direction would be lawful and reasonable.

Employers can also increase other coronavirus safety measures, such as PPE, to account for employees who may choose to not take the vaccine.

What should employers do if they want me to get vaccinated?

Employers cannot and should not carelessly rush you into being vaccinated. It has to be safe for you and you need to know about the vaccines now in use. That is a conversation best held with your family doctor.  In addition, you can also request additional information from your employer about the vaccination process and how it relates to your workplace.

Does an employer need to consult when implementing a workplace policy about coronavirus vaccinations?

Before implementing a new workplace policy or changing an existing policy about vaccinations, employers should consider their workplace and employees’ circumstances and whether they need legal advice about their obligations.

Most workplaces are covered by either an award, enterprise agreement or another registered agreement. All awards and enterprise agreements have a consultation clause requiring employers to consult with employees and any representatives when an employer intends to implement significant workplace changes. Some registered agreements, employment contracts or existing workplace policies may also require employers to consult.

This means that before introducing or changing a workplace policy about vaccinations, employers should review any applicable workplace instrument, employment contract or existing workplace policy to find out:

1.  Whether they need to consult under that document (as well as needing to consult under work health and safety laws).
2.  Who they need to consult with (including any employee representatives or unions).
3.  How they need to consult about the proposed workplace change.

Under work health and safety (WHS) laws, employers also have to consult with employees and their health and safety representatives (HSRs) about possible control measures to address WHS risks. This includes consideration of a new policy about coronavirus vaccinations or changes to an existing vaccination policy.

Employers must also provide employees and their HSRs a reasonable opportunity to express their views about the policy changes. Employers need to take these views into account when making a decision and advise employees and HSRs of their decision.

Do employees have to be paid for the time to get vaccinated against coronavirus?

There is currently no ironclad rule requiring employers to provide an employee with paid time off to get vaccinated.

Unions are campaigning for paid vaccination leave to be available to all workers as a basic workplace right alongside paid pandemic leave.

Where an employer requires an employee to be vaccinated against coronavirus (for example, because they have a mandatory vaccination policy in place), the employer should cover the employee’s travel costs, as well as other out-of-pocket costs and give the employee time off work without loss of pay, if the appointment is during work hours.

Even where an employer doesn’t require their employees to be vaccinated against coronavirus, they can still discuss work adjustments, leave arrangements or incentives with their employees to support them getting vaccinated. These arrangements could include:

1.  Requesting and taking leave (for example, annual leave or unpaid leave).
2.  Starting work later or finishing early (to help employees to attend a vaccination appointment around work hours).
3.  Working from home (to help an employee attend a local vaccination appointment).
4.  Providing paid time off for their employees to get vaccinated against coronavirus.

Can employees take paid time off if they feel unwell after being vaccinated?

Full-time and part-time employees can use paid sick leave if they can’t work because they’re unwell after being vaccinated.

If a full-time or part-time employee runs out of paid sick leave, they may be able to agree with their employer to access other paid leave entitlements, like annual leave, or to make other arrangements like taking unpaid leave.

Employers should also consider their obligations under any award, enterprise agreement or other registered agreement, employment contract or workplace policy, which could include extra rules about sick leave.

Can an employer insist that new/prospective employees be vaccinated?

The law is rapidly moving in the direction that employers can be presumed to have the right to insist on new employees being fully vaccinated. Where the prospective employee/contractor is unvaccinated or refuses to disclose their vaccination status, the employer would be entitled to terminate the recruitment process.  In addition, if an employer completes the recruitment process and the employee (or contractor) commences their employment, and then the employer discovers that the employee is unvaccinated, the employer may terminate that employment, so long as they could demonstrate that it was an condition of the employment and that it was communicated to the prospective employee at the outset of the recruitment process or clearly expressed in the contract of employment that was executed by the employee.

Can mandatory vaccination be discriminatory?

An employer’s vaccine requirement must be mindful of Australian discrimination laws.

The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) (SDA) and the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) (DDA) make it unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of pregnancy and disability in many areas of public life, including in employment.

‘Disability’ is broadly defined in the DDA and includes past, present and future disabilities, as well as imputed disabilities.

For people who are pregnant or have a disability or underlining medical condition that prevents them being vaccinated, a blanket rule mandating coronavirus vaccination is likely to engage the ‘indirect discrimination’ provisions in the SDA and the DDA and therefore also pursuant to General Protections breaches under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (FWA).

In broad terms, indirect discrimination occurs when a person is required to comply with a general requirement or condition (such as mandatory coronavirus vaccinations), and they are unable to do so because of their pregnancy or disability and it has the effect of disadvantaging them.

Under the SDA, DDA and FWA, indirect discrimination may occur if an employer requires, or proposes to require, that a person comply with a general requirement or condition. This means that an employer does not need to seek to enforce a mandatory coronavirus vaccination policy (e.g., by way of termination, suspension, or performance management) to engage in unlawful discrimination.

Whether a requirement by an employer that its employees receive coronavirus vaccinations is considered ‘reasonable’ by a court or tribunal is likely to be highly fact dependent, taking into account the particular workplace and the employee’s individual circumstances.

What if I’m pregnant or planning pregnancy?

Australian governments have advised pregnant women to receive the coronavirus vaccine.  Pfizer is the preferred coronavirus vaccine for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or planning pregnancy.  Research shows Pfizer is safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women and they can receive the vaccine at any stage of pregnancy.

The risk of serious outcomes from coronavirus is higher for pregnant women and their unborn baby.  Pregnant women who get coronavirus have a higher risk of needing to go to hospital or needing intensive care.  Their unborn baby has a slightly higher chance of being born prematurely (born before 37 weeks of pregnancy) and needing to go to a hospital for care.

Vaccination is the best way to reduce these risks.

Women who are pregnant or planning pregnancy, are ultimately responsible for navigating that pregnancy and determining the best approach for them and their family.  As such, women who are pregnant or planning pregnancy, should consult their medical providers about coronavirus vaccination and discuss the best way forward for their respective pregnancy pathway.

Employers should exercise precaution when dealing with women in this category of employees, as they can still find themselves in breach of the antidiscrimination framework, irrespective of the public health orders.

I’m an independent contractor, not an employee. Can a business refuse to provide me with work if I can’t or won’t verify my vaccination status?

With few exceptions, a company seeking to engage the services of a contractor can generally insist on the terms that they use to engage contractors. MEAA’s best assessment is that a company can make a work offer contingent upon a contractor proving their vaccination status, remembering that a company has the same work health and safety obligations as any other employing entity.

If you are denied a contracting opportunity because you have not provided vaccination status information and you think your vaccination status has no bearing on the work you wish to perform, contact MEAA.

Can an employee refuse to attend the workplace because a co-worker isn’t vaccinated against coronavirus?

 Generally, it’s unlikely that an employee could refuse to attend their workplace because a co-worker isn’t vaccinated against coronavirus. The reasons for this include:

1.  Where vaccination isn’t mandatory for all employees and many workplaces won’t be able to require their employees to be vaccinated.
2.  The co-worker may have a legitimate reason not to be vaccinated (for example, a medical reason).

If an employee refuses to attend the workplace because a co-worker isn’t vaccinated, their employer can direct them to attend the workplace if the direction is lawful and reasonable.

If an employee has concerns about the safety of the workplace, they should raise their concerns with their employer and MEAA as soon as possible.

Can an employer direct me to attend a coronavirus test?

The public health orders as administered by state and territory health departments mandate a range of circumstances where an employer can issue employees reasonable directions to undertake coronavirus testing. Members are directed to consult with their respective health departments to ascertain their precise position in relation to their state or territory’s health department public health orders.

The directions ought to be lawful and reasonable. In other words, there has to be a sound basis for an employer requiring an employee to undertake a coronavirus test. It cannot be for the employer’s convenience.

Undertaking the test must be linked to the inherent requirements of your job. The bottom line is that your health status has to be relevant to the work you perform and the environment in which you work.

Although the law is rapidly developing, it should be noted that a direction to be tested is more likely to be lawful and reasonable if a worker or contractor shows signs of ill-health associated with coronavirus, or the employee works in close proximity to other colleagues or the public.

Can an employer direct me to show whether I have been vaccinated?

 An employer may require this information where it is valid part of ensuring that the workforce overall are not being put at risk of increased coronavirus transmission, but the law is not settled in this area.

If a workplace does not require you to be vaccinated, the grounds on which they can seek personal medical information (and therefore compromise your privacy) are not strong.

Can an employer insist on which vaccine is used?

This question has arisen from members concerned that visiting US productions may seek to use US screen sector vaccine-recognition rules. These rules recognise that the Pfizer vaccine has been approved at all levels in the USA, while the AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved for so-called ‘emergency use’. (Pfizer only received full approval in the USA in August 2021. It is common for vaccines to be approved in stages and over a lengthy period of time.)

MEAA firmly believes that a production cannot discriminate against employees or contractors on the basis of which vaccine they have used, so long as the use of those vaccines has been approved by the relevant federal/state health authority. It is the health rules as they are in Australia that apply to productions taking place in Australia. In Australia, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has approved 3 vaccines for use in Australia:

  1. Comirnaty (Pfizer) vaccine
  2. Vaxzevria (AstraZeneca) vaccine
  3. Spikevax (Moderna) vaccine

If a production seeks to discriminate against MEAA members by insisting on one type of vaccine or giving one vaccine a higher value than another, affected members should immediately contact the union.

NOTE: This is a fast-moving and incomplete area of law and was last updated on September 17, 2021. It is subject to rapid change, including through decisions by the courts and by Australian governments. MEAA will update this resource to reflect what the law says.

Icon

COVID-19 Coronavirus Vaccination: a MEAA guide to your rights at work

201.87 KB 96 downloads
Last update: September 17, 2021