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Can employers in Austria ask if staff are vaccinated against Covid-19?

As the pandemic continues, the rules are also changing - including in the workplace - with vaccination status now becoming a topic of debate.

Can employers in Austria ask if staff are vaccinated against Covid-19?
Can your boss ask for your vaccine credentials? (Photo by RAYMOND ROIG / AFP)

According to a labor law expert, employers in Austria have the right to ask employees if they have been vaccinated against Covid-19.

In a report by the Kurier, labor lawyer Wolfgang Mazal said Austrian employers can ask staff if they have received the vaccine, but that doesn’t mean employees have to declare their vaccination status.

Confused? Here’s what you need to know.

What is the law?

Currently, there is no law in Austria that makes it mandatory to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

According to the Chamber of Labor Upper Austria, this means employees cannot be fired for refusing to be vaccinated.

The Chamber also confirmed they would support anyone who was dismissed for this reason in the courts.

Similarly, there is no law against an employer asking a member of staff if they have been vaccinated.

READ MORE: UPDATE: Austria to roll out Covid booster shots in autumn

However, employees are not legally obliged to answer truthfully, whether already employed or during an interview. 

Labor lawyer Mazal even says if someone is asked by their employer if they are vaccinated, they have a legal right to say, “I won’t tell you”.

Furthermore, in a statement by the Chamber of Labor Upper Austria, it is highlighted that vaccination status is considered as private health data, which is covered by data protection laws.

But employees can voluntarily announce their vaccination status to employers if they want to.

Jobs that require vaccination against Covid-19

In Austria, there are a small number of professions that require staff to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

This includes all new health and social workers in Vienna, plus health staff and some childcare workers in Burgenland, Lower Austria and Styria.

In terms of the law, mandatory vaccination in these cases only applies to new hires. For example, an employer can mandate that all job vacancies are only filled by people who have been fully vaccinated. 

READ ALSO: Austria to tighten Covid measures for unvaccinated from Wednesday

This is nothing new in Austria as staff in the health sector in Vienna have been required to be vaccinated against diphtheria, measles, tetanus, mumps, rubella and hepatitis B since 2017. 

However, some legal experts believe that while an employer cannot force existing employees in these roles to be vaccinated, they can fire staff for refusing vaccination as a “last resort”. 

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.

But an employer will need to have exhausted all other avenues before terminating someone for not getting vaccinated. 

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WORKING IN AUSTRIA

Austria extends its short-term work system until the end of 2022

The Kurzarbeit system was limited until June; the Federal Government this Tuesday extended its validity.

Austria extends its short-term work system until the end of 2022

Austria’s short-term works scheme, the Kurzarbeit, which was set to expire by the end of June, was officially extended until the end of the year.

The scheme allows companies particularly affected by the coronavirus pandemic to ask for government assistance as long as they keep their workforce. Employees in Kurzarbeit work fewer hours and receive a fraction of their salary, paid by the scheme – up to 90 per cent, depending on their pay.

Discussions are still ongoing between the trade union and the Chamber of Commerce on the details of the short-time work extension, broadcaster ORF reported.

Employers want the government to increase the percentage of the salary paid to workers, asking all employees receive a 90 per cent net replacement for wages. Workers with higher salaries could receive as little as 70 per cent of their wages from the scheme, leading to a significant loss of income.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to get your €500 Kurzarbeit bonus in Austria

Austria’s Labour Minister Martin Kocher said that the extension was only possible after “significant compromises” and that the system will only exist in very specific cases in the future. He didn’t give further details, though.

One of the reasons for the extension, ORF reports, was to cushion the economic consequences of the Ukraine war.

Kurzarbeit and unemployment rates

April 2020 saw the highest number of people, more than one million, on the scheme. Around 53,000 people were still pre-registered for short-time work at the beginning of the week. From March 2020 to the end of March 2022, government spending on coronavirus short-time labour amounted to € 9.56 billion.

READ ALSO: Six official websites to know if you’re planning to work in Austria

At the same time, the domestic labour market has seen a decrease in unemployment, even with the slowdown due to the war in Ukraine and soaring energy prices.

Compared to just one week ago, 4,216 fewer people were unemployed. Currently, 324,977 people are registered with the Public Employment Service Austria (AMS) as unemployed or in training. 251,633 of them are looking for a job, and 73,344 are in training measures of the AMS.

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