Government guidelines on unvaccinated workers

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Supplied Content
Wellington, June 8, 2021

Employment New Zealand has recently produced general guidance on vaccines for workers and businesses.

Officials said that New Zealand has embarked on its largest-ever Vaccination Campaign, which will provide free Covid-19 vaccines for everyone in the country.

“Safe and effective vaccines are essential to protect New Zealand and our Pacific neighbours from Covid-19. Workplaces will play a key role in supporting our Vaccination Campaign, and the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines is likely raise some important employment and health and safety questions,” they said.

The following are extracts from Employment New Zealand website.

Businesses, workers and their representatives should communicate early and openly. The duty of good faith in employment relationships and consultation requirements under the Health and Safety at Work Act also apply to conversations about workplace vaccination issues. Businesses and workers can also access support from MBIE’s Early Resolution Service to resolve employment problems early and informally.

Supporting the Vaccination Campaign

We encourage all businesses to support their workers to access vaccination without workers facing costs or disadvantage. For example, this could mean (a) Allowing all workers to access vaccination during work hours (when available) for themselves and their dependents, without using annual leave or losing pay (b) Providing workers with relevant and timely information from the Ministry of Health or District Health Boards about the importance and benefits of vaccination.

Facilitating on-site vaccination, if asked to do so by the Ministry of Health or a District Health Board. Vaccines are being administered to workforces at higher risk first. Most businesses will need to wait until vaccines become more broadly available.

Public Health Measures

Vaccines play a critical role in reducing risks of Covid-19 infection and transmission. Businesses should consider these risks as part of their health and safety activities and assessments. When considering workplace vaccination issues, businesses should consult up-to-date public health guidance. Current advice from the Ministry of Health is that vaccination supports, and does not replace, other infection prevention and control measures.

Businesses must take steps to eliminate or otherwise minimise risks, including the use of personal protective equipment and cleaning, where recommended under public health guidance.

Businesses and other organisations should continue to encourage use of the NZ Covid Tracer App by clearly displaying QR codes and must follow Alert Level rules.

Some practical barriers

If there are practical barriers to accessing Vaccination (eg travel or time off work is needed), businesses should help address these issues. Some workers will have individual health concerns or other reasons for needing support. Businesses should ensure they do not directly or indirectly discriminate against workers on the basis of their vaccination status.

Health and safety reasons for requiring work to be done by vaccinated workers

Businesses cannot require any individual to be vaccinated. However, businesses can require that certain work must only be done by vaccinated workers, where there is high risk of contracting and transmitting Covid-19 to others.

This will be a minority of all work in New Zealand. This could change if there is a significant shift in the Covid-19 situation domestically.

Assessing exposure risks

To decide that work is high risk and therefore needs vaccination for health and safety reasons, businesses must first assess their Covid-19 exposure risk. This applies to work done by all workers, whether employees or independent contractors.

Businesses must involve workers, unions and other representatives in the risk assessment process, and when deciding how to eliminate/minimise risks. Businesses should consider whether other public health measures (eg physical distancing, PPE usage) can minimise the risk of exposure and transmission of Covid-19.

Reasons for requiring vaccination other than health and safety are unlikely to be sufficient, for example, requiring vaccination to promote your workplace as being fully vaccinated. This would amount to requiring workers to undergo a form of medical treatment solely for a marketing benefit.

If certain work can only be done by vaccinated workers, businesses should set a reasonable timeframe for workers to decide if they will be vaccinated. If an employee cannot work during this time, special paid leave should be considered, especially in the short term while employers and employees discuss what happens next.

Covid-19 Public Health Response (Vaccinations) Order 2021

From May 1, 2021, some work at the border can only be done by vaccinated workers.

This means businesses need not perform individual health and safety risk assessments for work covered by this Order.

Work covered by the Order must be done only by vaccinated workers.

Employment Law continues to apply to employees doing work covered by the Order, even if they are not vaccinated. This includes good faith requirements for any conversations about changing work arrangements/duties, taking leave, or restructuring work.

Collecting, storing and sharing information about people’s vaccination status must be done in accordance with the Privacy Act.

Asking workers whether they are vaccinated: Generally, a worker does not need to disclose (or prove) their vaccination status to a business.

If certain work cannot be done by an unvaccinated worker, a business can ask a worker about the worker’s vaccination status. Workers will be able to show their vaccination cards to prove that they have been vaccinated or get a copy of their vaccination records from their GP.

If the worker does not disclose (or provide evidence about) their vaccination status, the business may assume that the worker has not been vaccinated for purposes of managing health and safety risks.

However, businesses should first inform workers of this assumption, and what will happen if the worker is not vaccinated or does not disclose their vaccination status.

Employees cannot be redeployed or disadvantaged for refusing to disclose their vaccination status unless particular work cannot be done by unvaccinated employees.

From 1 May 2020, the Ministry of Health can inform PCBUs whether workers covered by the Covid-19 Public Health Response (Vaccinations) Order 2021 have been vaccinated.

Asking candidates during a job interview: Businesses can only ask candidates if they are vaccinated when this is justified by the requirements of the role. For example, if a business decides, following a Covid-19 exposure risk assessment, that certain work cannot be performed by an unvaccinated worker, it may be reasonable to ask about an applicant’s vaccination status. This information should be collected according to the Privacy Act.

Protecting personal information

Businesses must take reasonable steps to ensure information about vaccination status is collected lawfully, including that workers are aware of how this information will be used, and why it is being collected. Businesses must not pass on information about a worker’s vaccination status to others without the worker’s consent, or otherwise allowed by the Privacy Act.

Source: Employment New Zealand. The above story has been sponsored by

 

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