Get Ready for the Covid-19 Vaccination Roll Out
New Zealand’s general population (i.e. everyone aged 16 and over) will, on current predictions, start getting vaccinated for Covid-19 from the end of July 2021. The roll out is already under way for the higher risk groups.
It’s time for employers to think about how they’re going to approach the vaccine with their employees. Will they encourage all staff to get it? Can they make the vaccine mandatory for all or just some roles?
Employees already have questions too. What if they can’t get the vaccine, or just don’t want to? What will happen to their job then?
There’s a lot of conflicting information out there.
Here is what we consider employers should do to meet their health and safety requirements under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, while bearing in mind their usual employment obligations.
First, read up about the government’s vaccine plan and information at the Unite against Covid-19 and Ministry of Health websites https://covid19.govt.nz/covid-19-vaccines/ and https://www.health.govt.nz/.
Second, do a health and safety risk assessment, in consultation with employees, to determine their likelihood of being exposed to Covid-19 through their work and the potential consequences of that exposure for them and others. WorkSafe has guidance about how to do that at https://www.worksafe.govt.nz/
The risk for most workplaces right now will be low as long as there is little community transmission and the border is largely closed. That can change however, so employers need to keep on top of this with repeated risk assessments.
Where the risk is low, practical steps for employers who want staff to take up the vaccine include:
(a) Communicating with employees about the economic and health benefits of getting the vaccine, as well as the potential side effects, and pointing them to reliable sources of information.
(b) Supporting employees to get the vaccine such as by arranging for on-site vaccinations or paid time off if they have to get it off-site. If they need time off to recover from side effects, normal sick leave obligations would apply but extra paid time off could be offered.
(c) Asking employees if they’re willing to disclose if they have had the vaccine or not and explaining how that information will be collected and maintained under the Privacy Act 2020 (if it’s freely given).
Where there’s a higher risk (such as for border workers, those working with vulnerable people, or even if the general risk level changes) employers who consider certain roles can only be safely performed by a vaccinated person should get legal advice and consider:
(a) Introducing a vaccination policy (in consultation with employees) that sets out why vaccination is required for certain roles and the potential consequences for employees who do not get it. This might include potential redeployment to another lower risk role, working from home or with PPE, or even potential dismissal. This is risky business for employers who may face personal grievances from employees who claim they’ve been disadvantaged or unjustifiably dismissed and robust consultation would be required.
(b) Requiring vaccination as a condition of employment for new hires but bearing in mind there is also a duty not to discriminate on grounds such as disability, age, religion and so on, which might be relevant.
None of this is straightforward. If you are facing any of these issues in work, whether as an employer or an employee, our litigation and employment team is here to answer any questions and guide you through the ever-growing Covid-19 minefield.
Please contact Geraldine on DDI (03) 371 1022