1. I don’t want to get vaccinated but a public health order says I have to in order to work outside my home. What about my human rights?
The Victorian Equal Opportunity & Human Rights Commission has produced an explainer around Covid-19 vaccinations and human rights.
According to the Commission: The Equal Opportunity Act prohibits discrimination in certain areas of life, including employment and the provision of goods and services, based on protected attributes such as disability or religious belief or activity. Vaccination status is not a protected attribute under the Equal Opportunity Act.
This means that discrimination law doesn’t offer protection for everyone who chooses not to get vaccinated, only for people who have one of the other protected attributes in the Equal Opportunity Act.
Victoria Legal Aid says: Some beliefs are protected by discrimination laws in Victoria, like religious beliefs and political beliefs. That means your employer should not treat you unfairly because of your religious beliefs or political beliefs. Discrimination laws are unlikely to protect you if you refuse to be vaccinated because of your beliefs about vaccines.
There are also situations when discrimination laws do not apply. That means you could lose your job if you refuse to be vaccinated and either of the following apply: the chief health officer has directed that you must be vaccinated to work it is reasonable for your employer to insist you are vaccinated to make your workplace safe.
Our insurance broker, Insurance House, has stated that if a public health order specifically mandates an insured person to be vaccinated, it is within the insurance company's right to exclude insurance cover for an event caused by an insured person’s deliberate and wilful non-compliance with public health orders. Insurance House says it is obliged to not mitigate or deflect public orders and can be held to account if it attempts to do so.
2. Can I require my client to tell me whether or not they are vaccinated against Covid-19?
The Allied Health Professions Australia has referred its member organisations to advice from the NSW Chief Allied Health Officer: ‘Private allied health providers have a right to ask people if they’re vaccinated. It is then reasonable to make suitable alternative arrangements if the client is unvaccinated and that presents a risk to the individual provider or employee of that provider (e.g. if someone has compromised immunity). Suitable alternative arrangements might mean seeing the unvaccinated person at the end of the day or when people at most risk aren’t there, or using telehealth. If the prospective unvaccinated client does not like the options proposed, they can choose to go elsewhere. As always, the provider must also comply with anti-discrimination and privacy obligations.'
3. Do I have to disclose my vaccination status to clients?
If you are providing face-to-face therapy, clients may want to know that you are vaccinated against Covid-19. While you are under no legal obligation to provide this information, the PACFA Code of Ethics requires members to make clients ‘the primary focus’ and to respect the wishes of clients to be involved in decisions about their counselling or psychotherapy services. Clients may have medical or psychological reasons why it is important to them for their therapist to be vaccinated. Being transparent and honest will give the client agency over whether to proceed with therapy with you, and build the therapeutic relationship.
4. Can I refuse to provide therapy to unvaccinated clients?
You are entitled to refuse face to face therapy to unvaccinated clients If you are concerned for yourself and others that an unvaccinated client poses an unreasonable health and safety risk.
If that's the case you could offer these clients therapy online/ telehealth.
This advice is from the Victorian Equal Opportunity & Human Rights Commission explainer around Covid-19 vaccinations and human rights: ‘Under the Equal Opportunity Act, discrimination is allowed on health and safety grounds but the service provider must prove how this health and safety exception applies. A range of things will likely be relevant to whether it is ‘reasonably necessary’ or ‘reasonably practicable’ to require customers and visitors to be vaccinated, including:
- the type of goods or service provided and the people that access it, and whether there is a heightened risk they will suffer severe symptoms if they contract COVID-19 (for example, care or support service settings where there are people over 60 or medical goods for people with pre-existing health conditions)
- the physical space of the location and associated risk of transmission whether alternative measures could have been put in place to protect employees and any members of the public who enter the location
- the rate of community transmission at the time
- the availability of the vaccine
- advice from work health and safety bodies such as WorkSafe Victoria about vaccinations at the time.
For further information on practicing in your state or territory during the COVID19 pandemic, view our updates for counselling and psychotherapy during Covid.