This week’s question comes from Debbie:
I am curious how, as PCBUs, landlords should handle the issues of vaccination and safety at a workplace when we send tradespeople into a rental property to carry out work. Do we have the right to ask our tenants if they are vaccinated even with the understanding that they do have the right not to tell us?
Understanding, of course, that the intention of this question is not to delay/deny maintenance/repair work until the tenant can positively prove that he/she is vaccinated (which would be completely inappropriate and illegal) but rather what is best practice in terms of health and safety of everyone at the rental property while work is being carried out against the backdrop of the delta variant and vaccine rollout, our views are as follow:
In terms of knowledge of your tenant’s vaccination status, we advise a more pragmatic approach (i.e. what is reasonably practicable for you as the PCBU in this instance) instead of framing the issue as to whether there is a right to know/ask.
The standard for residential landlords as PCBUs is lower than that of your commercial counterparts. In the case of sending a tradesperson to do work at a residential rental property, the general requirement from the HSWA is for you to engage a competent contractor who, in turn, is primarily responsible for the health and safety of everyone at the worksite.
It would be appropriate, given COVID’s prevalence in the community, to ensure that you are only engaging with tradespeople who have incorporated robust COVID guidelines into its practices. At the very least, competent tradespeople would want to want to know whether any tenants are experiencing symptoms of COVID or self-isolating (which is something the tenant should positively disclose to you or the tradesperson per Tenancy Services guidelines). We also expect them to be able to provide you or your tenants with the appropriate health and safety (vis-à-vis COVID) information (such as face-covering and social distancing while they are on-site) before work begins.
After engaging the right tradesperson for the job, let them take the lead (remember, they own the health and safety protocol while the rental property is a worksite, not you). You can support their efforts by passing on the appropriate health and safety information to your tenants before the work begins so everyone knows their part to play to stay safe at the worksite.
Given the highly sensitive and private nature of a person’s vaccination status, the fact that the vaccination doesn’t stop the spread of the virus (but rather lowers the risk), the ample government COVID guidelines on how to safely carry out property/building work under Level 3/2 (none of which includes disclosure of vaccination status, at least not for the time being), and existing requirements for tenants to disclose that they have been unwell or are self-isolation (should there be work done at the property), we think it would be a step too far to ask your tenants to disclose whether they are vaccinated/intend to be vaccinated.