The Government has begun the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine with frontline workers, who will be administering the vaccinations, being the first group to be vaccinated. They will be followed by those who are considered most at-risk in our community such as border workers and MIQ facility staff. It is anticipated that by mid-2021 the vaccination will be available for the community in general.
Although the Government encourages all New Zealanders to get vaccinated it has confirmed that the vaccination will not be compulsory for the general public which raises several questions for both employers and employees. The following is a summary provided by Employment New Zealand in relation to the COVID-19 vaccination and employment:
Information for all working relationships
The following information applies to all working relationships, including those between a business and an independent contractor.
- To help New Zealand’s COVID-19 Immunisation Programme succeed employers can assist by encouraging and supporting for their staff to be vaccinated. This could include:
- facilitating on-site vaccinations
- allowing workers to get vaccinated during work hours without loss of pay, and
- providing workers with relevant and timely information from the Ministry of Health about vaccination and its benefits.
- Employers should engage early and constructively with workers and unions when considering vaccination issues at their workplace.
- Workers do not have to tell their employer if they have been vaccinated or why they are unable or choose not to be vaccinated. If workers do not tell employers what their vaccination status is, employers may assume workers are unvaccinated, but should first inform workers of this assumption. Employers must protect personal information about vaccination status and cannot share it (including with other workers) without a worker’s consent.
- Employers cannot require an individual to be vaccinated. However, employers can require a specific role be performed by a vaccinated person. Employers must have first done a Health and Safety Risk Assessment to support such a requirement, and must do this assessment in collaboration with workers, unions, and other representatives.
- Employers and workers can access support from MBIE’s Early Resolution Service to resolve employment problems early and informally.
Information for employment relationships
The following information is specifically for employment relationships.
- All discussions between employers, workers and unions about COVID-19 vaccination must be done in good faith.
- Employers are encouraged to offer paid work time for employees to be vaccinated.
- Following a Health and Safety Risk Assessment if a particular role requires vaccination:
- Employers can make changes to an employee’s duties for health and safety reasons if an employee is not vaccinated. Any such process must be fair and reasonable, and carried out in good faith. Employers must avoid unfair disadvantage. Employers, in consultation with employees, must consider options, such as changing work arrangements, alternative duties or leave. If leave is used, this must be agreed, and we encourage this be paid. Employers and employees may agree to a negotiated end of employment, but individual dismissals are unlikely to be justifiable in almost all cases, based on current circumstances.
- Employers and employees can negotiate variations to existing conditions of employment to require vaccination. Employers can also require vaccination as a condition for new employees, but this must be reasonable for the role. Employers must follow good faith processes under existing employment agreements (individual or collective) and contracts to make any changes to them.
If you are unsure of your obligations, we advise that you seek legal advice.
The following link to Employment New Zealand expands on the information provided in this article. https://www.employment.govt.nz/leave-and-holidays/other-types-of-leave/coronavirus-workplace/covid-19-vaccination-and-employment/#scrollto-information-for-all-working-relationships