Facebook and Google will require their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to the office in coming months.
Both companies have been largely operating with global work from home (WFH) policies for the duration of the pandemic.
In an email sent to all Google employees – and shared on the company’s blog today – Google CEO Sundar Pichai told staff work from home arrangements would extend until mid-October and that a new vaccine mandate will apply to its US offices “in the coming weeks”.
“Anyone coming to work on our campuses will need to be vaccinated,” Pichai said.
“We’re rolling this policy out in the US in the coming weeks and will expand to other regions in the coming months.
“The implementation will vary according to local conditions and regulations, and will not apply until vaccines are widely available in your area.”
Facebook similarly announced a vaccine mandate this week with the company’s VP of People, Lori Goler, saying it “will be requiring anyone coming to work at any of our US campuses to be vaccinated”.
“How we implement this policy will depend on local conditions and regulations,” Goler said in a statement.
“We will have a process for those who cannot be vaccinated for medical or other reasons and will be evaluating our approach in other regions as the situation evolves.”
A Facebook Australia spokesperson told Information Age the company was “currently following the guidance from the NSW and Victorian governments” regarding its local staff.
How far Google’s policy extends – and if it will affect Australian employees – will depend on local regulations and the supply of vaccines.
Will you be mandated to get a vaccine?
According to the Fair Work Ombudsman, it is unlikely your employer can force you to get a vaccine unless there is an existing law – such as public health orders – or employment contract stipulating mandatory vaccinations.
“In the current circumstances, the overwhelming majority of employers should assume that they can’t require their employees to be vaccinated against coronavirus,” a notice on the Fair Work Ombudsman website, updated last week, reads.
“There are limited circumstances where an employer may require their employees to be vaccinated.
“Whether an employer can require their employees to be vaccinated against coronavirus is highly fact dependent, taking account of the workplace and each employee’s circumstances.”
Fair Work said legality of direct employees to vaccinated “needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis” and that the pandemic “doesn’t automatically make it reasonable for an employer to direct their employees to be vaccinated against coronavirus”.
Australia has a relatively low vaccination rate – only 14 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated compared to the US’s 49 per cent and UK’s 55 per cent according to Our World in Data – which would make it more difficult for employers to enforce mandatory vaccinations.
Employer’s aren’t exactly rushing to enact vaccine policies either, with a recent Gartner poll of global HR leaders finding only 5 per cent of employers saying they would enforce vaccinations once the vaccine is widely available.
Local workers may be okay with mandated vaccinations, however, as a recent poll of Australian employees from ELMO Software found 62 per cent of respondents believed employers should require their staff to get the jab.
As Sydney faces four more weeks of lockdown and tighter movement restrictions while it battles the dreaded Delta strain of COVID-19, national airline Qantas said it is considering a nation-wide vaccine mandate for aviation staff to complement requirements already in place in NSW and South Australia.
The NSW government has said it will make Pfizer vaccines available to Year 12 students in high risk Sydney council areas before they return to classrooms on August 16.