Fair Work Commission Rejects Unfair Dismissal of Unvaccinated Employees

Fair Work Commission Rejects Unfair Dismissal of Unvaccinated Employees

Australia’s national workplace tribunal, the Fair Work Commission (FWC), has upheld the dismissal of unvaccinated employees for failing to comply with relevant public health orders (vaccination directions) regarding COVID-19. To mitigate the risk of unfair dismissal claims, employers must ensure that procedural fairness is upheld.

Disclaimer: The directives in this article relating to the COVID-19 pandemic may no longer be in force. Please use caution if you are citing legislative material from this article as laws are subject to change. We recommend that you seek the most up-to-date law.

Can an employee be terminated for refusing to be vaccinated?

The cases explored in this article have established a precedent for the lawful dismissal of unvaccinated employees. The cases demonstrate how an employee’s decision to remain unvaccinated against COVID-19 can prevent onsite work. The refusal of vaccination directions can result in an employee being incapable of performing the inherent requirements of their role, thus leading to a valid reason for dismissal.

Floors Aucamp v Association for Christian Senior Citizens Homes Inc [2021] FWC 6669


In January 2016, Mr Aucamp commenced employment with the Association for Christian Senior Citizens Homes Inc (the Association) in the role of a full-time maintenance manager.

On 4 October 2021, a meeting took place between Mr Aucamp and two representatives from the Association to discuss the vaccination directions that were going to be implemented on 7 October 2021. The Association was aware of Mr Aucamp’s objection to the vaccine. Mr Aucamp agreed to the possibility of dismissal should he refuse to comply with the vaccination orders.

Mr Aucamp’s employment was terminated on 14 October 2021 on the basis that Mr Aucamp could not lawfully enter the premises and was therefore unable to perform his duties.

FWC Decision:

The FWC agreed that Mr Aucamp was required to be vaccinated in accordance with public health orders. The FWC held that Mr Aucamp’s decision to remain unvaccinated rendered him incapable of achieving the expected standards of performance, thereby constituting a valid reason for dismissal.

Isabella Stevens v Epworth Foundation [2022] FWC 593


On 20 September 2021, the management of Epworth HealthCare (Epworth) informed all employees that mandatory vaccination directions required healthcare workers to ‘be vaccinated and provide appropriate evidence of vaccination, or have a booking to receive a vaccination by 29 October 2021, unless the exception for medical contraindications applied.’

Ms Stevens, a dietician at Epworth, communicated her objections to the vaccine to the executive general manager of Epworth Richmond. The executive general manager advised her that it would not be feasible to ‘perform the key requirements of her role from home.’ Owing to Ms Stevens’ incapacity to attend the workplace, her employment was terminated.

FWC Decision:

The FWC upheld the dismissal of Ms Stevens on the grounds that she refused to provide her employer with proof of her vaccination status.

The FWC rejected the following submissions from Ms Stevens:

  • that taking the vaccine was to ‘participate in a “medical trial procedure”’
  • that the vaccination directions were inconsistent with federal law
  • that the vaccination directions were inconsistent with the Privacy Act 1988
  • that the vaccination directions were inconsistent with anti-discrimination legislation
  • that the vaccination directions were inconsistent with international human rights conventions
  • that Epworth should have lobbied against the Victorian Government to have the vaccination directions revoked

The FWC held that Epworth’s dismissal of Ms Stevens was in accordance with vaccination directions which imposed a duty of care on healthcare facilities. These directions imposed a ‘regulatory requirement’ in relation to the vaccination status of Epworth’s employees, rendering the dismissal lawful.

Likewise, the FWC rejected the contention that the COVID-19 vaccination rollout was a “medical trial,” as the relevant tests had taken place before the Therapeutic Goods Administration approved the vaccines.

What are the obligations of an employer?

It is the responsibility of the employer to take steps to comply with the relevant public health orders. When implementing policies such as mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policy, employers must ensure procedural fairness by undertaking a consulting process with their employees.

To understand how the vaccination directions apply differently across each state and territory, please visit the Fair Work Ombudsman website.

Additionally, if you would like to learn more about the complexities of unfair dismissal claims, please visit our blog.

How Etheringtons Solicitors can help?

A solicitor at Etheringtons Solicitors can provide clarification of the relevant law and its relation to your individual circumstances. If you need further advice or assistance with any employment law matters, please contact one of our experienced solicitors on (02) 9963 9800 or via our contact form.

Can Your Employer Force You To Take Leave During Lockdown?

Can Your Employer Force You To Take Leave During Lockdown?

Etheringtons Solicitors Disclaimer: The directives in this article relating to the COVID-19 pandemic may no longer be in force. Please use caution if you are citing legislative material from this article as laws are subject to change. We recommend that you seek the most up-to-date law.

As NSW and other parts of Australia are plunged into another stay-at-home period due to the Covid-19 outbreak, businesses are once again likely to be feeling the pinch. Whilst many are able to work from home, some employers may look to ask employees to take annual leave if the company has ceased operations as a result of the lockdown. This article will address whether an employer can force an employee to take annual leave during lockdown, and the obligations of both parties in these circumstances.

How does annual leave work? 

Annual leave allows an employee to be paid whilst having time off work. Generally, full time and part-time employees are eligible for a minimum of 4 weeks annual leave based on their ordinary hours of work, however the courts have also recently recognised a casual worker’s right to annual leave in some circumstances. Generally, annual leave is taken upon agreement between an employer and the employee. However, in unusual or extenuating circumstances, your employer may direct you to take annual leave.

Can my boss force me to take annual leave during lockdown because of COVID-19 restrictions?

In short, yes. An employer can direct employees to take some leave in limited circumstances such as when the business shuts down. Whilst this is common during the Christmas/New Year period, businesses have been extending this principle when COVID-19 restrictions force business shutdowns. However, this directive must be considered reasonable. Factors considered when determining reasonableness include:

  • Needs of the employee and the employer’s business
  • Agreed arrangements with the employee
  • Custom and practice of the business
  • Timing of the direction or requirement to take leave
  • Length of the period of notice given

Therefore, employers should be mindful to give notice as soon as practicable if such a directive will be issued to employees and specify the period for which they will be required to take leave. Employers can also ask you to take annual leave where you have an excessive annual leave balance, which is generally 8 weeks or more of accrued leave.

Contact Etheringtons Solicitors

We represent both employers and employees in the changing landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic, so if you or your organisation needs further advice or assistance in relation to annual leave or other workplace entitlements, please call Etheringtons Solicitors on (02) 9963 9800 or fill out a contact form.

Tribunal’s ruling welcome relief to small business prevented from JobKeeper

Tribunal’s ruling welcome relief to small business prevented from JobKeeper

Covid-19 continues to disrupt business operations, creating an uncertain environment for business owners to trade within. In response to the drastic impact of Covid-19 on the Australian economy, the Federal Government introduced the JobKeeper scheme to support small businesses and combat unemployment. Whilst many businesses have benefited greatly from the scheme, some were excluded from Commonwealth support as they failed to meet the eligibility criteria. The recent case of Apted v Commissioner of Taxation considered the requirement for businesses to have an active Australian Business Number (ABN) when applying for the JobKeeper package; the Tribunal finding that the purpose of the scheme was to support businesses and arbitrary eligibility requirements were contrary to this objective.


Mr Adept was the sole trader of a small business where he worked as an expert valuer in rental disputes up until July 2018 at which point he retired. As such, he cancelled his GST and ABN registration effective June 2018. However, after he decided retirement wasn’t for him, in September of 2019 Mr Apted was engaged to provide services for the odd client. He mistakenly assumed that he was not required to reactivate his ABN as he did not anticipate to make more than $75 000 per year and did not think he needed to be registered for GST or an ABN.

At the end of March 2020, Mr Apted applied to have his ABN reactivated, which was reinstated by the Registrar with a date of effect of 31 March 2020. He then subsequently applied for a JobKeeper payment in April 2020, but his application was rejected as he was deemed ineligible due to his inactive ABN at the 12 March 2020 cut-off date. Mr Apted then contacted the Registry and had his ABN retrospectively backdated to be effective from July 2019 after which he appealed the decision with the Commissioner. His claim again failed on the basis of ineligibility and Mr Apted subsequently escalated the decision of the Commissioner to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal of Australia.

Eligibility Requirements for JobKeeper

There are several requirements set out in the Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Payments and Benefits) Rules 2020 (Cth) that must be met in order for a business to qualify for JobKeeper payments. These include:

  • At 1 March 2020, the entity was an active business; not for profit operating primarily in Australia; or a deductible gift recipient.
  • The entity employed at least one eligible employee during the JobKeeper fortnight being applied for.
  • The entity satisfies the original decline in turnover test: which is generally satisfied when an entity’s projected GST turnover for the test period falls short of current GST turnover for the relevant comparison period by the specified percentage (normally 30%). There are alternative tests for businesses started in 2020 before March 1.
  • The entity satisfies the actual decline in turnover test: which is generally satisfied when an entity’s actual GST turnover for the test period falls short of the relevant comparison period, by specified short fall percentage (normally 30%).
  • The entity satisfies the integrity rules: have an ABN that was active on 12 March 2020; and an amount was included in the entity’s assessable income for 2018-19 income in relation to the business or the entity made a taxable supply in a tax period between July 2018-12 March 2020.

Decision of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal of Australia

In its decision, the Tribunal considered the purpose of the JopKeeper scheme as a mechanism for providing necessary and accessible support to small business owners. The Tribunal found that the Integrity Rule containing the requirement for an active ABN at 12 March 2020 was contemplated by the government as putting trust in the Registrar and the ABN process, rather than a fixed deadline. As a result, where the Registrar decides to use its discretion to retrospectively date an ABN, this does not vitiate the integrity of the ABN for the purposes of JobKeeper eligibility. The Tribunal found in favour of Mr Apted, and reiterated the need for JobKeeper to remain a streamlined and attainable scheme for Australian businesses.

It is worth noting that that the ATO has confirmed that they have lodged an appeal against the decision in the Federal Court of Australia and the possible future implications of this decision remain unclear. However, the ATO maintains the AAT’s decision has not changed the need to satisfy all of the other eligibility conditions.

Other Recent JobKeeper Updates

From the 28th of September 2020, businesses and non-for-profits seeking to claim JobKeeper payments to March 2021 must reassess their eligibility with reference to their actual turnover in the December quarter and demonstrate the required decline turnover test has been met. Further, from January 4th the payment amount has decreased to $1,000 per fortnight for eligible employees and business participants working for 20 hours or more a week on, and $650 per fortnight for employees and business participants who were working for less than 20 hours a week.

How do I check the status of my ABN?

An Australian Business Number is a unique identifier that enables your business to identify itself, avoid PAYG tax, and claim GST credits. It is important as the owner of a small business that you are able to check the status of your ABN and reactivate it before expiry. You can apply or reapply online for an ABN through the Australian Business Register website, and once your application is successful your details will be added to the Australian Business Register. The Register contains the status of all ABN’s including their expiration date. Once you have obtained an ABN it is important you keep your details up to date in the Register, as this is how you will be contacted when your ABN is due for renewal. If you do not receive a notice of renewal, or unsure about the status of your ABN you may need to seek out further assistance.

Further Information

Matters such as these highlight the importance of seeking expert legal and taxation advice when conducting a small business. Mr Adept himself acknowledged his misunderstanding of ABN requirements was because he failed to obtain proper advice. If you are the owner of a small business, and want to understand more about your eligibility for JobKeeper payments or about the implications of an ABN for your business, do not hesitate to contact us on 9963 9800 or via our contact form.

What is a Bankruptcy Notice – What Should You Do if You Receive One?

What is a Bankruptcy Notice – What Should You Do if You Receive One?

Disclaimer: The directives in this article relating to the COVID-19 pandemic may no longer be in force. Please use caution if you are citing legislative material from this article as laws are subject to change. We recommend that you seek the most up-to-date law.

A bankruptcy notice is essentially a demand for the payment of money served by a creditor (a person who is owed money) onto a debtor (a person who owes money). They are generally served to enforce court judgements worth $5,000 or more against a debtor.

What Do I Do if I Have Received a Bankruptcy Notice?

If you have received a bankruptcy notice, you need to either comply or apply to have it set aside. Whilst you would normally have 21 days in which to do one or the other, this has been extended to 6 months due to complications related to Covid-19. You can either pay the amount owed in full or reach an agreement with the creditor (preferably in writing) to pay the amount owed in instalments.

However, if you want to apply to the court to have the bankruptcy notice set aside, you must also act within the time stated in the notice. If you fail to act in this time, you will have committed an ‘act of bankruptcy’. This will allow the creditor to lodge a petition to apply for a sequestration order. This in turn will make you bankrupt.

Applying to set aside a bankruptcy notice

You can apply to the Federal Court or Federal Circuit Court to set aside the bankruptcy notice. You can also apply to extend the time for compliance with the notice. These options are available if you can argue one of the following:

  • There is a defect in the bankruptcy notice. For example, the name on the notice is wrong, there was no time limit for compliance with the notice, the judgement or order was worth less than $5,000 or the notice was not served properly.
  • The debt does not exist, such as if you have already paid for it.
  • You have a claim against the creditor, equal to or greater than the amount claimed in the bankruptcy notice. The bankruptcy notice is an abuse of process. This means that it has an improper purpose or is providing unfair pressure on the debtor to pay the debt.

To set aside a notice you need to fill out and file Application Form B2, an affidavit and the bankruptcy notice at the Federal Court. You will need to pay a filing fee. Then you need to serve a copy of the application and supporting affidavit that have been stamped by the court on each respondent to the application. This must happen personally within 3 business days of the application being filed.

Legal Advice

Bankruptcy notices can be complex to deal with, and the Bankruptcy Act 1966 is a complex piece of legislation. It is recommended you seek legal advice before acting.

To find out more, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Protecting Your Assets During a Financial Crisis

Protecting Your Assets During a Financial Crisis

Disclaimer: The directives in this article relating to the COVID-19 pandemic may no longer be in force. Please use caution if you are citing legislative material from this article as laws are subject to change. We recommend that you seek the most up-to-date law.

This article has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, financial advice. We recommend that you should consult your own finance advisors before engaging in any transactions.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shocked the financial markets and created difficult situations for people who own assets that have fallen in value. In this article, we explore three tips that could help protect your assets and finances throughout the COVID-19 crisis, or other financial difficulties.

Protecting Personal and Family Assets

A discretionary trust (also known as a family trust) can be used to protect assets in the event of a financial crisis or bankruptcy. In a typical family trust, the trustee is under an obligation to hold property for the benefit of the beneficiaries. The trustee is the legal owner of the trust property and the beneficiaries hold an interest in the property. Therefore, if a beneficiary experiences financial hardship, trust assets are protected from the any creditors, as the beneficiary does not own the trust property.

It is common for family trusts to have a corporate trustee as this allows for particular tax benefits. It also means the trust can exist indefinitely, as there may be multiple directors appointed to control the trust.

However, there are many events that risk exposing the assets of a trust, including where loans are made from a family trust, when there are unpaid allocations of trust income and capital, and when companies are beneficiaries. Many deficiencies stem from a poorly constructed trust deed, therefore it is important to consult a legal professional to carefully draft a deed to ensure asset protection.

Protecting Business Assets

One of the greatest risks during economic downturns is that a business may become bankrupt, leaving both employees and directors vulnerable. Creating limited liability companies or corporations is the most common strategy to help protect your personal assets from the reach of creditors if your business becomes bankrupt. Businesses can also use the structure of a trust to protect assets that have value, such as machinery, equipment or intellectual property, to prevent them from being taken in the event of a lawsuit.

Professionals that are at risk of personal liability must be careful as the risk of insolvency and/or lawsuits frequently arises during a financial crisis. Thus, it is important to check your business and professional indemnity policies for inclusions and exclusions. One way you could protect yourself is to increase your professional and public liability policy premiums and cover more extensively the events that are likely to occur in the current environment.

Pension and Superannuation Funds

Most pension and superannuation funds allow you to shift your investments across different asset classes. As volatile market movements have resulted in falling share prices, shifting your investments could substantially reduce the current value of your portfolio. If you are older or rely on income from your fund, you could consider reducing the risk of your investments by shifting holdings from equities to bonds and cash. However, it is important to note that moving your investments could mean that you sell at a lower than usual price and therefore miss out on opportunities for future price increases. As such, some financial advisors may suggest to sit out of the market and wait until things blow over. If you are middle-aged or younger and will not need to rely on a fund income within the next ten years, attempting to time the markets is risky and rash decisions could lead to a loss in the potential future value of your assets. Many suggest that the key is to maintain a balanced portfolio that spreads risk across different asset classes to reduce your downside risk and also ensure exposure to upside risk when the market outlook improves.

Further Information 

If you would like more information on how we can advise you about trusts and protecting your assets, do not hesitate to contact us on 9963 9800 or at [email protected].

Modern Awards – An Update, June 2020

Modern Awards – An Update, June 2020

Several modern awards have been significantly varied by the Fair Work Commission (‘FWC’) to grant businesses and employees temporary measures to preserve the ongoing viability of businesses and jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the unpaid pandemic leave and annual leave flexibility that has varied over 99 awards since 8 April 2020, the NSW Government has inserted provisions in the Long Service Leave Act 1955 (NSW) relating to pandemic leave. Employers should become familiar with these important industry award changes which we will outline below.

Changes to Modern Awards in 2020

The Tranche 2 awards, including the following listed below, have been finalised and will come into effect from the 29 May 2020. In addition to unpaid pandemic leave, the following changes have been inserted that are temporary and will be reviewed on 30 June 2020:

1. Clerks — Private Sector Award 2010

Operational flexibility: employees can be asked by their employers to do any tasks that they have skill and competency for, even if they are not in their usual classification or normal work, given that the employee has the appropriate licenses and qualifications. If an employee is told to work above their usual classification for more than one day, they must be compensated by being paid at a higher rate.

Work from home agreements: Part-time employees can agree to have minimum engagements reduced from 3 hours per shift to 2 hours. Casual employees can agree to be paid for a minimum 2 hours’ work shift instead of 3 hours.

Ordinary hours change while working at home: Agreements can be made to allow employees to work between 6am to 11pm on Monday to Friday, and 7am to 12.30pm on Saturday.

Reduced hours: Any employee who has had their hours reduced can ask their employer for permission to find more work with another employer and/or access training, professional development and study leave through their employer.

See determination for further information.

2. Hospitality Industry (General) Award 2010 and Restaurant Industry Award 2010

Operational flexibility: An employee can perform any duties within their skill and competency provided that they are licensed and qualified to perform them. Employees engaged to perform higher duties must be compensated at a higher rate than their ordinary classification.

Working hours: An employer may direct a full-time employee to work an average of between 22.8 and 38 ordinary hours per week and be paid on a pro-rata basis. An employer may direct a part-time employee to work an average of between 60% and 100% of their guaranteed hours per week (over the roster cycle).

Annual Leave: An employer may, subject to considering an employees’ personal circumstances, direct the employee to take annual leave with 24 hours notice.

See determination for the Hospitality Industry Award and the determination for the Restaurant Industry Award.

3. Educational Services (Schools) General Staff Award

Temporary reduced hours: An employer may issue a notice of intention in writing to direct an employee to reduce their ordinary hours by up to 25%. The direction will come into effect 5 days after the notice of intention was issued and will remain in force for a period of no more than 12 weeks.

Operational flexibility: An employee can perform any duties within their skill and competency provided that they are licensed and qualified to perform them. Employees engaged to perform higher duties must be compensated at a higher rate than their ordinary classification.

Other awards that have been varied include the Rail Industry Award, Contract Call Centres Awards and Manufacturing and Associated Industries and Occupations Award. See what other awards have changed in 2020 here.

Considerations for Employers

Employers must be aware of their changing obligations surrounding unpaid pandemic leave and any other laws, such as those relating to the JobKeeper subsidy. The greater flexibility in relation to job roles and duties, work hours and leave under some awards is a positive development towards enabling businesses to meet the challenges caused by the pandemic. However, employers must proceed with caution to ensure that their work agreements comply with these award variations.

Further Information

For further assistant on any matter relating to work from home policies or any workplace matter, please contact one of our experience employment and litigation solicitors on 02 9963 9800 or [email protected].