HR Minister says employees could face fines or jail for refusing vaccinations. Is this legal?

Malaysia’s Human Resources Minister M. Saravanan caused a stir late last week when he was widely reported (see Bernama, Malay Mail, The Star) as saying that action could be taken against employees who refuse to be vaccinated. While recognising that vaccinations have not been made mandatory under Malaysian law, Saravanan said that the authorities could take action under the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994 (“OSHA”).

The legal position regarding mandating employee vaccinations has been widely-discussed in recent weeks, and I’ve previously shared my views on this blog (“Is it legal for Malaysian employers to make vaccinations mandatory for employees?”), as well as with the media (“Can Malaysian employers make Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory for their staff? Lawyers explain.”).

So what exactly does OSHA provide, and can the authorities really rely on OSHA to take action against employees who refuse to be vaccinated?

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Is it legal for Malaysian employers to make vaccinations mandatory for employees?

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought up seemingly endless unique legal challenges for businesses and employers for the past 18 months, and counting. Beginning with lockdown and restrictions, remote working, paycuts, retrenchments and reorganisations, businesses in Malaysia and many other jurisdictions are now focusing on reopening, and hopefully moving into a post-pandemic future.

In recent weeks, we have been reading about the issue of mandating vaccines for employees. The legality of so-called “no jab no job” policies continues to be debated in major jurisdictions such as the UK, US, and Europe, where the reopening of the economy is at a more advanced stage than Malaysia, and where many companies have been implementing mandatory vaccination policies. Multinational companies with a Malaysian presence are now looking to roll out those policies in their Malaysian offices too. However, the law can be very different across jurisdictions, and employers will need to tread with caution and consider not just the legal but practical repercussions before making vaccinations mandatory for their employees.

In this article, I set out the legal position on this issue, and the key issues employers need to consider. I’ve also previously shared some of my views on this with The Malay Mail in their piece earlier this month — “Can Malaysian employers make Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory for their staff? Lawyers explain.”

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