24 Feb Covid 19 vaccinations – can I make them mandatory?
Employers rights and obligations
February 2021 marked the start of New Zealands Covid-19 vaccine roll-out.
Covid-19 vaccinations – can I make it mandatory?
What employers need to know:
- You can’t force staff to be vaccinated.
- You can insist specific roles are to be performed by a vaccinated person.
- You can’t easily dismiss an employee if they refuse to be vaccinated.
- You must provide a safe work environment.
I’m hearing lots of uncertainty around employers obligations when it comes to vaccinating against Covid-19. This blog is aimed to provide insight as to what your obligations and options are as an employer.
MBIE is asking employers to encourage staff to become vaccinated by:
- Giving staff the option to get vaccinated during work hours without the loss of pay,
- Facilitating on-site vaccinations, and
- Providing workers with relevant and timely information about the vaccination and its benefits.
Whilst these things aren’t mandatory, it is hoped that you’ll get more staff buy-in for the Covid-19 vaccination if you do these things.
What should I know?
Employees do not have to tell their employer if they have been vaccinated or not. With permission, the ministry of health can inform employers whether Group 1 or Group 2 workers have been vaccinated.
If an employer asks an employee what their vaccination status is, and they refuse to disclose it an employer can assume the employee is not vaccinated. However, the employer must inform the employee of this assumption as early as possible.
The Privacy Act applies, as usual. This means that the information you collect and store must be done confidentially. You cannot share personal information about vaccination status without workers consent.
An employer wanting to require a specific role be performed by a vaccinated person must first have done a health and safety risk assessment in collaboration with workers, unions and other representatives.
Employers should engage with workers and unions as early as possible when considering vaccination issues at their workplace.
Consider what roles, if any, need to be performed by a vaccinated person. Make sure you carry out an H&S risk assessment and that you consider adding this to your pre-employment process.
Dealing with refusal
Depending on what an employee is refusing will depend on what you can do.
Ultimately, an employer must always consult an employee in good faith where they are considering changes that could adversely affect an employee’s employment. This means you must give the employee/s all relevant information on what you’re proposing and allow staff the opportunity to comment before you make a decision.
If you are in a position where an employee is not vaccinated and the role requires it you will have to consult them in good faith by looking for alternative solutions/duties, considering changes to work arrangements or using leave. If leave is being used it must be agreed and MBIE encourages this to be paid leave.
This is an area full of law that is complex and tricky. If you need some guidance give me a call and we’ll work through a strategy that is relevant to you.
Ministry of Health
Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment.
What’s best for you is what matters.