Austria made headlines this week by becoming the first country in Europe to implement a general mandate for vaccinations against COVID-19.
The regulation applies to all adults, with limited exemptions for individuals who are pregnant, who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons, and who have recovered from COVID-19 within the last 180 days.
The measure was signed into law on Friday, February 4, 2022. Austrians can expect to receive written notice from the government outlining the mandate and its exemptions over the next month. Thereafter, compliance checks will begin on March 15. Police will be empowered to randomly stop and check the vaccination (or exemption) certificate of individuals. Failure to comply will result in an initial fine of €600 with amounts increasing over the passage of time to €3,600. The fines will be forgiven if the individual gets vaccinated within two weeks.
The measure contemplates a later phase during which a vaccination registry is established and all those who are not in compliance will be automatically fined. At present, no date has been set for commencement of this phase. The law will remain in effect through January 31, 2024.
The controversial measure comes as a relief to some multi-national employers who have, until this point, been prevented from implementing any employer vaccine mandates in Austria under the country’s existing law, which vests such powers exclusively with the government.
Other European countries, including neighboring Germany, are in the process of considering such measures to boost stagnant vaccination rates. Employers should carefully monitor legal updates in case other countries decide to follow suit. In the interim, employers should remain mindful of the limited role they play in COVID mandates, and should be careful not to collect or maintain information that might be subject to data privacy protection.