The hot topic of discussion right now, and the most important thing on many people’s minds as we wait with baited breath to see when Auckland will open up and as we try to understand what a new system will actually mean for us all.
But as well as the magic 90% mark giving us a date when we finally get to see family outside of Auckland, go to the gym, attend a gig, or have our next meal out, the vaccination topic also brings a lot of employment complexity and many questions for organisations to answer.
Some of the questions posed dive into unchartered employment and legal waters, and the considered answers need to be communicated with both balance and empathy. They also depend on the individual circumstances of each employee and each employer. Employers are also making decisions with a bigger picture in mind that also includes the need for talent retention.
It is important to be clear that you cannot insist that employees be vaccinated. You can, however, mandate that certain roles may only be performed by vaccinated employees for safety reasons. The details on what roles and industries have been mandated by the Government, and will be in the future can be found here (Mandatory vaccinations for workers | Unite against COVID-19 (covid19.govt.nz)).
Even if your Industry isn’t covered by the Government mandate, it may well be that there is enough risk of your employees being exposed to Covid, that mandating roles to only be performed by vaccinated employees is still required to keep them safe. To determine this, Worksafe have published guidelines for performing a risk assessment. This information is currently being updated further, and this updated information is due to be published any day now. However, you can find the current information here (How to decide what work requires a vaccinated employee and WorkSafe’s enforcement approach | WorkSafe.)
Either way, if you decide to go down this path you still have to consider your responsibilities under the Employment Relations Act. You need to ensure you act as a fair and reasonable employer as you make your decisions and communicate with your team.
This would include:
- Developing a draft vaccination policy, which clearly outlines:
- Your Company’s position on vaccinations
- The processes you intend to follow to collect and store vaccination information
- The process for vaccine exemptions
- The application of the policy
- Consulting with your employees and any relevant Unions around your vaccination policy. This would include outlining the reasons for your position in writing and allowing them a period to consider this and respond
- Genuinely considering the feedback you receive in making your decisions, answering questions, and providing responses
- Providing your final decision in writing and allowing a reasonable time for this to take effect
- If you are mandating vaccination, considering redeployment options or alternative ways of working for unvaccinated workers, before making the decision to terminate their employment.
- The Government has also announced a 4-week compulsory notice period for anyone who’s employment is terminated due to their vaccination status, and while this isn’t legislated yet – it will be, so you will have to take this into account.
Some businesses may not be in the position to mandate vaccinations, yet there may be a need to understand the vaccination status of your team. This may impact the level of safety precautions you should be taking for Covid in the future or be something you need to consider for your normal BAU events.
What will happen if you want to visit a customer site where vaccination is mandated, yet you have an unvaccinated Sales Rep? Or you plan a staff event where the venue requires vaccinations passports to enter? Or your IT specialist can’t travel to another site, as they can’t board a plane?
These are all future possibilities we will have to consider, and that are just around the corner for us once the traffic light system comes into force.
Being armed with the knowledge of your team’s vaccination status helps you prepare for these events, can focus your vaccination campaigns in the right area, and helps you understand the impact any changes announced may have on your team.
The Privacy Act is a key consideration when asking for this information. You can make the request, but providing it should be voluntary. The information you gather must also be stored securely, and you should communicate clearly why the information is being sought, what is will be used for and who will have access to it.
And there is more.
Other areas you will need to consider as a business will be:
- Your pre-employment process and how vaccination status fits in with this
- Your position on contractors or visitors who come onto your worksite
Each of these requires careful consideration, adherence to relevant legislation, and an employee centred approach which focuses on keeping your people safe.
While we have been in lockdown for some time and it may feel likes time is moving slowly, changes, updates, mandates and requirements in the vaccination space are evolving quickly, will continue to do so and will impact every workplace.
We recommend that every business takes the time to think this through carefully and acts now to keep your teams safe, be well set up for whatever comes next, and make sure you feel confident and ready for a happy Christmas break.