Starting today (15 October), unvaccinated brokers across Victoria could be hit with fines of over $21,000 – or $100,000 for their company – if they work in offices outside of their home.
Under the Victorian government directions, every “authorised worker” in Victoria must have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine if they want to work “onsite” at an office (a place of work outside of their home) from Friday (15 October).
Authorised workers include those who provide a financial service (as defined in section 766A of the Corporations Act 2001 of Commonwealth), or "works in connection with the provision of such a service". While mortgages fall under the Credit Act, some products - such as offset accounts - are deemed financial products and could therefore fall under the direction.*
The state government announced earlier this month that all workers in Melbourne and regional Victoria who are on the authorised worker list (including financial services providers) would require their first COVID-19 vaccine dose by Friday (15 October) in order to continue working on-site. They will need to be fully vaccinated by 26 November.
The 15 October deadline does not apply to workers who already have existing requirements under health directions (such as construction, freight, healthcare, aged care and education workers), who will still have to comply with previous advice.
Heather Richardson, a partner at Kalus Kenny Intelex Lawyers, has said that those who have not had any vaccinations and continue to work on-site from Friday (15 October) risk being fined up to $21,808 on an individual basis and $109,044 for businesses that issue worker permits to employees who do not meet permit requirements (including vaccination status).
The onus will be on employers to collect and store the vaccination status data of each staff member, and this information must be collected for any employee who is working from any location outside their home, on or after 15 October 2021.
To comply with the new government directions, which are currently in place until 11:59pm on 21 October 2021, Ms Richardson said employers must ensure their employees:
Employers must also collect, record and hold information about compliance with the above.
Employers who are authorised providers must not permit an unvaccinated worker to work for that employer outside the worker’s residence, unless an exception applies.
Where vaccination status is not disclosed, the employer must treat the worker as unvaccinated, Ms Richardson also explained.
Exceptions will apply to workers who have a booking to receive a vaccination by 22 October 2021 and other limited exemptions apply (such as where an employee can show a medical reason for non-compliance).
And with current directions set to end on 21 October 2021, Ms Richardson flagged the health directions “as a rapidly evolving space”.
“It is important that you continue to check the up-to-date requirements,” she said.
Victoria sees COVID-19 cases spike, rolls out more vaccine locations
The move comes as Victoria on Thursday (14 October) marked a new record high in COVID-19 cases, after recording 2,297 new local cases and 11 deaths.
However, the Premier of Victoria, Dan Andrews has confirmed that the state will continue to work towards its reopening road map once the state hits 70 per cent and 80 per cent vaccination targets.
Approximately 62 per cent of Victorians are fully vaccinated and 86 per cent of residents have rolled up their sleeves once.
Over the coming weeks, the state is working to increase vaccination take-up, with “neighbourhood pop-up” vaccination centres opening in cafes, gyms, clubs and shopping strips to help more Victorians access the Pfizer vaccine “at a convenient location, in a familiar setting, and in a culturally safe way”, according to the Premier.
Suburbs in scope for neighbourhood pop-ups are concentrated in Melbourne’s mid and outer north, west and south-east, with Broadmeadows, Craigieburn, Glenroy and South Morang among the next on the list.
Premier Andrews commented: “All of our health workers are working their guts out to be there for us and they need us all to do our bit and get vaccinated, so we can continue on our pathway to opening.”
Minister for Health Martin Foley added: “If you’ve been putting it off or waiting to get vaccinated, don’t wait any longer. The best vaccine is the vaccine you can get today and we all need to do our bit to protect the community and get back to the things we love.”
Noting the new neighbourhood pop-ups, Mr Foley added: “We believe we can reach even more people by offering a chance to be vaccinated as they are going about their day-to-day, in a setting that’s familiar, comfortable and local.
“Victoria started this program with mass vaccination centres in some of Australia’s largest buildings, and now we’re finishing it in with mini-pop ups in the suburban cafes and shops that people visit every day.
“We couldn’t do any of this without the enthusiastic partnership of general practice, pharmacy, community organisations and local businesses.”
BOQ to require all workers to be vaccinated
Several players in the broking and lending space have already thrown their weight behind vaccinations, with BOQ announcing on Thursday (14 October) that it would be “taking a national and phased approach to ensuring [its] employees and the people [it] work[s] with are vaccinated”.
A BOQ Group spokesperson said: “As an essential service and proud employer of thousands of Australians, BOQ Group is focused on keeping its people, customers and the community safe. In line with the recent directive from the Victorian Government, and the NSW roadmap, and in consultation with the Australian Banking Association (ABA), we will be taking a national and phased approach to ensuring our employees and the people we work with are vaccinated.
“This follows a survey sent to employees which revealed that more than 90 per cent are already vaccinated, or have plans to do so, and the majority would prefer us to require employees to be vaccinated.
“We will be consulting with our people to ensure they have adequate and reasonable time to prepare for any new requirements.”
While BOQ Group customers will not be required to be vaccinated, the banking group said that vaccination will be a condition of entry to any BOQ Group workplace for all employees, contractors, vendors and suppliers.
*While the direction does not explicitly state that mortgage brokers are "authorised workers", it has been raised by some lawyers that the fact brokers are able to write certain financial products (such as offset accounts) under ASIC legislative instruments, this could mean that they fall under the direction because they are providing a service in relation to a financial product.
The content of this article does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. You should seek legal advice or other professional advice in relation to any particular matters you or your organisation may have.
[Related: Brokers must vaccinate: FBAA]
Annie Kane is the editor of The Adviser and Mortgage Business.
As well as writing about the Australian broking industry, the mortgage market, financial regulation, fintechs and the wider lending landscape – Annie is also the host of the Elite Broker and In Focus podcasts and The Adviser Live webcasts.
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