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All you need to know about Covid-19 vaccinations and the workplace

As you may know by now, the first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine is set to arrive in New Zealand by April 2021. These vaccines will firstly be made available to border staff and essential health workers. However, the government's long-term goal is for at least 70 per cent of the population to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.

This raises some interesting and very important questions for workplaces, so we thought we would provide some common questions! 

Can you make your staff get the Covid-19 vaccine?

In short, no- in most cases.

Under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, medical treatment requires informed consent and details personal rights relating to medical treatment. Therefore employers cannot compel employees to be vaccinated for Covid-19, but they can suggest their team to be vaccinated to '√≠ncrease safety for themselves and others in the workplace'. 

However, it may be considered reasonable to require employees to get the vaccination in some very limited circumstances. These circumstances are like those seen by frontline border workers, where other reasonable risk management strategies are not sufficient to manage exposure risk. For this to stand, there must be good evidence that this is the case and that other, less intrusive options (like the use of PPE and social distancing) have been put in place but are not sufficient. 

Can you use incentives to get your employees to vaccinate?

Yes, you can. 

If you wish to provide incentives for your employees, you are legally allowed to at your own discretion. 

Examples of incentives include:

  • One-off bonus payments for those who get vaccinated
  • Paying for time off and/or travel costs to get the vaccine
  • Allowing the use of sick leave to get the vaccination

Can I insist new employees are vaccinated?

Yes, in most cases. 

As an employer, you can request to see vaccination records only if you can show why you require access to that information and manage that information in line with the Privacy Act 2020. 

That being said, employers need to be very careful that they do not breach the Human Rights Act 1993 on the grounds of discrimination. There are no blanket rules and need to be accessed on a case by case basis. If a potential employee refuses to be vaccinated, you need to be very careful to consider their reasons for refusal.

Can you dismiss an employee who refuses to get vaccinated?

In short, no- except in very limited circumstances.  

Generally speaking, it would be unlawful to dismiss an employee who refused to get vaccinated. Doing so would very likely result in unjustified dismissal, claims of discrimination, and breaches of the Human Rights Act 1993. 

However, there are a few circumstances where you may be able to dismiss an employee who refuses to be vaccinated. For example: 

  • If your employee is in a role where there is a significant risk of contracting Covid-19 (like a healthcare worker)
  • The employee's reasons for not being vaccinated are not protected on grounds of discriminated under the Human Rights Act 1993.
  • You have considered all reasonable alternatives, such as redeploying the employee elsewhere in the company or changing their duties.

Before doing so, please make sure you get specific and professional advice to ensure that you are respecting your employees rights and are protected under the law!

Our top 3 tips for managing the vaccine in your workplace:

1) Keep communication open! Be open with your employees about why you think the vaccination is important for your workplace.

2) Create a positive culture that supports your employees decisions. Let them know they can have the time off they need to get the vaccine if they need it, don't punish people if they choose not to get it. Remember- Positive feedback and environments are much more likely to produce positive results!

3) Seek advice. Before you put any policies in place, or make any changes in the workplace that have to do with the vaccination, please seek professional advice. In most cases, doing so can save you a lot of trouble later on!

Have questions?

Please feel free to contact our team by emailing info@livewirehr.co.nz or by calling for free on 0800 HR LIVE.


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