The Greek God of Justice outside the Supreme Court in Brisbane.
The statue of 'Themis, the Greek God of Justice, outside the Supreme Court in Brisbane. Image by Dave Hunt/AAP IMAGES

Confused vaccine manslaughter claim based on non-existent law

AAP FactCheck March 25, 2022
WHAT WAS CLAIMED

Employers can be jailed under the “Corporate Manslaughter Act” for adverse vaccine reactions suffered by their employees.

OUR VERDICT

False. There is no such Act and experts say such cases would not apply under existing industrial manslaughter legislation.

A video posted to an Australian Facebook page claims employers can be jailed under legislation called the “Corporate Manslaughter Act” if employees suffer adverse reactions to COVID-19 vaccines mandated for their work.

But there is no such Act and experts say that various state-based industrial manslaughter laws that do exist would not apply to vaccine adverse reactions.

The post on the Cafe Locked Out page claims employers can be found criminally liable and jailed if their employees suffer adverse reactions following mandated vaccines.

From the 18sec mark of the video, an unidentified woman says that based on the “Corporate Manslaughter Act”, “you can actually find someone in your workplace criminally liable and negligent, and they can actually be jailed. And we actually believe that it’s going to take for someone to be jailed before the employers realise that they can be sued for anything that happens to someone if they have the jab and they’ve had to take it for their work”.

A man interviewing the woman can then be heard saying at the 1min 33 sec mark: “I have one woman I interviewed in Colac (Victoria), she’d be a perfect case.”

But there is no legislation in Australia called the “Corporate Manslaughter Act” at state or federal level. Some states and territories have industrial manslaughter laws (the ACT, Queensland, the NT, Victoria and WA) but industrial manslaughter expert Emeritus Professor Rick Sarre, whose work on the subject can be read here and here, says those laws were designed to “catch egregious cases of death in the workplace caused by a culture of neglect that was spread amongst the organisation where one single individual could not be found personally culpable”.

In the case of an employee dying due to a mandated vaccine, Prof Sarre told AAP FactCheck that “to suggest that these legislative enactments could apply to an employer who mandates an employee’s inoculation… such that that employer would be found personally culpable and suffer the consequence of imprisonment is both legally wrong and nonsensical in terms of public policy in any event”.

Prof Sarre confirmed that a so-called Corporate Manslaughter Act did not exist in Australia.

He also said that if an employee died as a result of a COVID vaccine mandated by their employer, that employer could not be held criminally or civilly responsible for that death.

“All of the COVID-19 legislation deliberately made it clear that that was never going to lead to liability civil or criminal,” he said in an email.

Associate Professor Neil Foster of the University of Newcastle’s Law School, whose main research includes workplace health and safety law, also told AAP FactCheck there was no separate legislation called the “Corporate Manslaughter Act”.

But he said that under a provision of the Workplace Safety Legislation Amendment (Workplace Manslaughter and Other Matters) Act 2019 (Vic), an officer of a company could be liable for causing death through negligence.

“The key question where an officer of a company had required its employees to be vaccinated, if the employee had a reaction to the vaccine which caused their death (and I have not heard of any such cases) would be whether the officer was negligent,” Mr Foster said in an email.

“Of course it might be possible, if for example they did not get professional medical advice about the matter. But a company whose officers followed general government guidelines on vaccination, and provided suitable information to employees, would not seem to me to be likely to be found negligent, nor would the officers. One would assume that the company allowed for medical exemptions to vaccination if there was some known risk factor which made the vaccination dangerous.”

Concern about employers’ liability in the event of employees suffering adverse reactions following vaccines mandated as part of their job has been expressed since mandates were brought in. In response, the federal government introduced a COVID vaccine claims scheme to provide employers with some assurance they would not face significant liability for employees’ vaccine side effects.

Even so, concerns persist around the lack of applicable public health orders covering mandates and the absence of a nationally consistent position on mandates in the workplace. On March 4, 2022, the Queensland government introduced the Public Health and Social Measures Plan to alleviate such concerns.

A NSW upper house MP, Fred Nile, has sought an amendment to the NSW Public Health Act to provide compensation for workers suffering injury as a result of a requirement to be vaccinated. Under the Bill, which has not been passed as of March 24, an employer would be “liable to pay compensation to the worker for any injury, loss or damage suffered by the worker as a result of the vaccine”.

AAP FactCheck has previously debunked claims that COVID vaccination mandates contravene the 1986 Human Rights Commission Act.

The Verdict

The woman in the video post is wrong to say there is a separate Corporate Manslaughter Act. Some Australian states and territories have industrial manslaughter laws designed to punish companies that cause industrial deaths, but experts in workplace health and safety laws say adverse reactions to the COVID vaccines would not qualify under such legislation.

False – The claim is inaccurate.

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