Reader question: Can I be fired for refusing to get vaccinated in Austria?
Vaccination is not compulsory under Austrian law, but is considered essential in some jobs. Can your boss fire you if you refuse to get the jab?
Austria’s vaccination program recently crossed 60 percent of people vaccinated with at least one shot, although concerns remain about the impacts of the small percentage of the population who refuse to get vaccinated.
Under Austrian law, vaccination is not mandatory. The Austrian government has repeatedly reiterated that the coronavirus vaccine would not be made compulsory at any point.
However, some Austrian law does allow for employees to fire their employees in some cases where they refuse to take the vaccine.
While legal experts emphasise that such a move is a ‘last resort’, it is possible under Austrian law.
Here’s what you need to know.
Vaccine in Austria not compulsory
In 2020, before the vaccine rollout began in Austria, former Health Minister Rudolf Anschober promised that compulsory vaccination was completely off the table.
Instead, Anschober said the Austrian government would focus on an education campaign which informed people about the effectiveness, safety and benefit of the vaccine.
On the Austrian government’s website, compulsory vaccination has been clearly ruled out.
“There is no compulsory vaccination in Austria. The decision for or against a vaccination rests with each person or with the person who is responsible for the care and upbringing (of the vaccinated person).”
So then my employer can’t make me get vaccinated, right?
One way employers are allowed to encourage their employees to get vaccinated is to only hire people who have already had the jab.
This has been the case for several months in a number of industries, mainly those where employees will work with vulnerable people.
In Vienna, all new health and social workers must be vaccinated against Covid.
This is completely legal and is in fact becoming more common.
But what if it's a job I already have?
Technically speaking, your employer can’t make you get vaccinated - however, in extreme scenarios you can have your employment terminated if you refuse.
Speaking with Austria’s Ö1-Morgenjournal, labour law expert Franz Marhold said an employee could be sacked for refusing to get vaccinated only if all other avenues had been exhausted.
The reason for this is that employers owe a duty of care to their staff and to customers.
If a member of staff is refusing to get vaccinated, they are putting other staff and customers at risk - which could have legal repercussions for the company.
However, an employer will need to have exhausted all other avenues before terminating someone for not getting vaccinated.
Marhold says this includes moving the employee to a division where he or she does not put the public or other staff at risk.
Alternately, one option could be allowing the person to work from home.
If this is not possible, the employer will need to look at putting in place partitions to help minimise the risk of infections.
Another possible option is to encourage the person top engage in further work-related study.
However, if all of these avenues have been exhausted and the person still refuses “they may then be terminated”, Marhold told the Ö1-Morgenjournal on Friday.
Austria’s Die Presse newspaper reports that while some of these changes can be made by the employer, they cannot be expected to put up with “complex and impractical protective measures in the long run”.
Can an employee just lie about it?
While most vaccination skeptics are loud and proud, some might want to keep their refusal private.
Under Austrian law, an employer has a right to ask staff whether or not they have been vaccinated.
This is because they have a justified interest in being informed about the risk an unvaccinated person poses to the business.
This is particularly the case in jobs in the care sector or other occupations where employees have contact with vulnerable people.
The Salzburg Employees Association points out that "an obligation to disclose the vaccination status would be assumed if a danger to the life and health of persons against whom the company is obliged to protect (for example customers or patients) can be assumed."
Marhold notes that while there may appear to be an incentive for someone to lie, he would warn against it as lying “would definitely be a reason for termination”.