Victorian retailers and their employees could face thousands of dollars in fines if they fail to comply with new COVID worker directions introduced last week.

Retailers who don’t comply may be fined over $100,000, and all staff working on-site must get the jab or risk being fined over $20,000 themselves.

According to Kalus Kenny Intelex Lawyers partner, Heather Richardson, these strict new rules will require extra work to be undertaken by employers including collecting and storing staff vaccination status data.

“If a staff member refuses to be vaccinated, they won’t be able to work on-site under the new Victorian Government Directions, which require every authorised worker in Victoria to have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Friday 15 October in order to work outside the home,” she explained.

“To comply, retailers must ensure their workers can prove they have received or booked their first vaccination by 15 October and are fully vaccinated by 26 November 2021. Limited exemptions apply, for example medical conditions which prevent a person from being vaccinated.

“To meet these mandatory vaccination Directions, the onus is on employers to collect, record and store information about each employee’s vaccination status. This information must be collected for any employee who is, or will be, working onsite or from any location outside their home on or after 15 October 2021.”

The Directions, which previously covered health care, construction and teachers, have been expanded to all workers in Melbourne and regional Victoria who perform work outside their place of residence, including retail workers.

The Directions apply to workers including those involved in manufacturing, meat and seafood processing, mining, professional sports, professional services including lawyers and financial services, real estate, repair and maintenance, retail, and transport.

“Workers must be vaccinated to attend their workplace and must carry an Authorised Worker Permit, a requirement of which includes being vaccinated. Workers who attend a workplace without a valid permit (which requires confirmation of vaccination) can face fines, as can the employer,” Richardson said.

Courts can impose penalties of up to $21,808 on individuals and $109,044 on businesses who issue worker permits to employees who do not meet permit requirements including vaccination status.

Employer responsibility

“Employers must, as soon as practicable, inform each worker scheduled to work away from their residence that the employer is obliged to collect, record and hold vaccination information about the worker and not permit an unvaccinated worker to work outside their place of residence unless an exception applies,” Richardson said.

“From 15 October 2021, employers who are Authorised Providers must not permit an unvaccinated worker to work for that employer outside the worker’s residence.  Where vaccination status is not disclosed, the employer must treat the worker as unvaccinated. Exceptions apply to workers who have a booking to receive a vaccination by 22 October 2021.

“Employers should also be aware of their obligations when collecting, using, storing and disclosing employee health information, including vaccination status, as regulated by the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth),” she added.

The current Directions will end at 11:59pm on 21 October 2021.