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Tackling vaccination hesitation in the workplace

Lack of government direction on vaccination requirements in certain industries has left many small businesses wondering whether to mandate vaccinations or give their staff the right to choose.

Some industries, – like the construction industry and now “authorised industries”, haven’t had to make the call because the State Government did it for them, but what about all the others that have been left to manage this contentious and emotive issue on their own?

Understandably, many small-business owners are nervous and want more information and guidance.

Unfortunately, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Vaccinations are more important in certain workplaces where human contact is necessary, or social distancing is difficult because of the nature of the work.

Many employees in such settings will recognise this and will choose to be vaccinated to protect themselves and their colleagues against the possibility of contracting or spreading the virus.

Some will also recognise that vaccinations are a way of protecting their jobs.

A positive case in a predominantly unvaccinated workplace where social distancing is difficult, if not impossible, will close it down until contract tracing is completed, all staff are tested, and the operation is cleaned. If a number of staff are affected, the closure could be lengthy.

So, what do you do if there is a general reluctance or delay to staff getting vaccinated?

Education is critical and important for workplace culture and in my view must come before a mandate.

What we found at Charlie’s Fine Food Co, is that for many employees, the resistance comes from a lack of information or language barriers.

Staff put it off because they have unanswered questions or are unsure of the risks.

Providing them with access to an independent expert, who can provide them with scientific information around the development of the vaccines, their risks, and answer their individual questions, is likely to have a significant impact and shift any unwillingness or disinclination.

In some settings education will not be enough, you may have an employee that is refusing to get vaccinated, or some staff that have genuine medical reasons why they cannot be vaccinated.

In both cases, you will have to assess the risks this might create for vaccinated workers as well as customers and visitors to the workplace.

Bear in mind that work health and safety (WHS) laws oblige employers to eliminate or minimise any health risks to workers and others affected by the work. Part of assessing and managing the risk is identifying the extent to which unvaccinated employees can limit their contact.

We found the difficultly comes for small businesses like Charlie’s Fine Food Co who want to avoid mandating, but at the same time ensure their workplace is safe and protected against the virus.

I don’t necessarily have the answer as this is complex and workplace-specific, but if for whatever reason you have reached an impasse, perhaps give consideration to whether or not an alternative job can be given to the individual in question, that can be done from home or in an environment with limited contact.

I am hoping we don’t find ourselves in that situation. Thankfully, the impact of a strong culture of “care of other” coupled with independent scientific information and education has led our team members to make their own choice to get vaccinated.

This story was originally published in our sister publication Inside Small Business.

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