Governments must lead the reopening with clear guidelines

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In an Italian restaurant in New York last month, three men allegedly attacked a worker for asking for proof of COVID-19 vaccination before putting her inside.

The woman was repeatedly beaten and her collar broken, according to news reports.

Carmines Restaurant said in a statement it was “a shocking and tragic situation when one of our valued employees is attacked for doing his job – as required by city policy – and trying to make a living”.

The restaurant wanted to comply with a newly introduced rule that requires businesses in the city to ask customers for proof of vaccination before letting them inside.

New York was the first major US city to introduce such a regulation in August. The rule, which, oddly enough, only requires a single dose of the vaccine, faces fines of between $ 1,000 and $ 5,000 for companies that fail to comply.

With Australia reopening after some of the longest lockdowns in the world, it’s inevitable that similar incidents will happen here. We have seen restaurant staff allegedly attacked for asking customers to check in.

Those who oppose vaccination may be a minority, but they are certainly a vocal one. It is hard to imagine that some of them would calmly take a denial of admission.

The least we can expect is that governments provide clear guidelines for businesses to help them navigate this unprecedented landscape.

I have spoken to a number of business owners over the past few weeks who are pulling their hair out and trying to understand their rights and responsibilities when we reopen.

These include employment issues: can they require their employees to be vaccinated? Can you even ask your employees about their vaccination status? What happens if a vaccinated employee does not want to work with unvaccinated colleagues?

Try to find answers to these questions online and the Ombudsman for Fair Work will direct you to state and territory websites and back, perhaps through Safe Work Australia or the Australian Human Rights Commission. Each of them will direct you to everyone else, and some will also ask you to review the professional awards for your employees for relevant provisions.

Alongside this, you’ll see tons of posts from private law firms, some of which suggest a vaccine mandate cannot be implemented unless the government requires it, others say it is “reasonable in the circumstances,” whatever that means .

Ultimately, what all websites have in common is that companies must seek appropriate legal advice for any action they want to take.

When it comes to implementing mandatory vaccination for customers of the company, the matter is not much clearer.

While various jurisdictions announced vaccination requirements during the reopening, there is confusion about what will happen if government rules are relaxed.

New South Wales residents have been told that it will be open to vaccinated and unvaccinated people alike from December 1st.

It is difficult to determine why this decision was made or when it was announced. Telling those who are reluctant to vaccinate that they only have to wait a few more weeks to have all the freedom of those vaccinated seems like an excellent way to undermine a vaccination program.

What no one seems to know is what this will look like for companies that wish to continue the vaccination mandate after this date. Will they face legal risks because of alleged discrimination?

I spoke to staff at a nonprofit nonprofit in NSW last week who wanted to restrict access to their building until next year to protect their many elderly and disabled visitors. Little did they know if that would be allowed after December 1st.

What is confusing is that companies can also be held liable if employees or guests become infected with COVID-19 on their premises. Many liability insurers have introduced exception clauses stating that they will not cover companies for this liability if the company has not taken appropriate precautions (here, here, here and here).

Should we really expect every company already affected by the effects of COVID-19 to seek individual legal advice from every ailing nonprofit that is already suffering from lack of money to help guide them through this nightmare?

We need government leadership here with clear advice on what companies can and cannot do to maximize the safety of their employees and customers.

If you found the recent “Freedom” protests uncomfortable, you can be fairly confident that the emotions will intensify in the months to come.

Corporations are criticized no matter what they do: the unvaccinated will protest their marginalization; the vaccinated will resent mingling with those who are not in gyms and cinemas.

And the people on the front lines will be poorly paid, often young, service workers trying to handle the aggression that will undoubtedly come upon them.

Clear guidelines for businesses would be a small thing we could do to keep them safe.

Jane McCredie is a Sydney-based health and science writer.

Statements or opinions expressed in this article reflect the views of the authors and do not constitute the official policy of the AMA, the MJA or InSight + unless otherwise stated.


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