By Ceri Hohner

Employers based in Greater Sydney have new rules to navigate regarding employees living or residing in the 12 local governments areas of concern, primarily to ensure all such workers who leave their LGAs have either received their first COVID-19 vaccination dose or are medically exempted from doing so.

While the debate about employers implementing mandatory vaccinations rages on across the country, the NSW Government has stepped up requirements for the most heavily affected LGAs, in some respects taking the decision-making out of employers’ hands.

Currently, a person who lives or resides in one of the 12 LGAs of concern (Bayside, Blacktown, Burwood, Campbelltown, Canterbury-Bankstown, Cumberland, Fairfield, Georges River, Liverpool, Parramatta, Strathfield, and some suburbs of Penrith) is only able to leave their affected LGA to perform work where they are an authorised worker. Persons leaving or entering affected LGAs must also register their travel with the NSW Government.

However, from 6 September 2021 (a commencement date which has already been pushed back by a week from 30 August 2021), all authorised workers over the age of 16 must not leave their affected LGA unless they have:

  1. received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine; or
  2. evidence of a medical exemption (obtained from a medical practitioner in the form approved by the NSW Chief Health Officer).

These workers must at all times carry evidence of their vaccination/exemption and address, and produce it to their employer, the occupier of their place of work, a police officer or other authorised officer when requested.

A third option to the above, which related to rapid antigen testing, was previously available but has now been removed by the NSW Government, meaning that all such workers must either be vaccinated (with one or two doses) or proven to be medically unable to do so.

While it is the responsibility of the individual worker to obtain the vaccination or the medical exemption, employers are able to ask the impacted staff to provide them with the relevant documentation in order to assess whether the employee can continue to attend work on and after 6 September 2021. Where an employee is unable to meet either of the requirements, employers should first give consideration to whether alternative arrangements can be made to facilitate the restrictions, such as whether the employee can be relocated to a workplace within their own LGA, and otherwise keep open and transparent communication with the relevant employees about their inability to attend work until they meet one of the requirements or the restrictions are eased.

Caution should be taken when collecting and storing health information of employees, and we would generally advise against requesting the vaccination status of employees unaffected by these restrictions, other than in exceptional circumstances or where another public health order permits it, as it may not meet employer obligations for the collection of sensitive information under the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth).

Please note that the Government restrictions are frequently changing, and as such, this article is for notification purposes only and should not be relied on. Employers should check the latest restrictions here.

For more information on managing COVID-19 restrictions in your workplace and on your workforce, contact the team at HR Assured.

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Ceri Hohner is a Senior Associate and Solicitor at FCB Workplace Law (our parent company) who has assisted clients across Australia from a range of industries and businesses.