A growing number of NZ businesses have announced they will require both staff and visitors in their offices to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The employment relationship impact of vaccination certificates that are used in the Protection Framework (announced 22 October 2021) is not yet clear.
In the interim, we know that small and medium enterprises up and down the country are looking for advice on how to decide their next steps – including those in Marlborough.
Assess the risk
Ultimately, the matter is a health and safety issue, and a careful risk assessment must be the basis for a business COVID-19 vaccination policy. While any policy will directly relate to your employees, the risk assessment will also be relevant to how you manage contractors or volunteers, and customers.
WorkSafe has provided some questions to consider:
- How many people does the employee come into contact with?
- How easy is it to identify those people?
- What is the proximity and duration of the contact?
- Does the employee interact with people at higher-risk?
- What is the risk in the work environment compared with outside work?
- If Alert Levels change in the region, will this interaction with unknown people continue?
- Employees must be involved in the assessment, which needs to be specific to the employer.
The focus must be on the risk of a person doing that work either contracting the virus or transmitting it to others. Think about the task, not the individual. Considerations must be made that minimise the risks to everyone in the workplace, vaccinated or not. Where a situation is not black and white, a judgement call will need to be made. Record the results of these discussions and judgement calls.
After completing the risk assessment, consider how else you can reduce the risk (such as hygiene standards, physical distancing, working from home).
Then, assess the overall risk, taking into account the risk assessment and the impact of any extra controls you can implement.
If your result is on the higher risk side, you and your employees should consider whether the work should be performed by a vaccinated employee. If you decide to implement a compulsory vaccine policy, you will need to follow the usual HR process and consult your employees.
You may decide the risk of infection and transmission for a particular role is no higher than outside work, indicating it does not need to be performed by a vaccinated employee. You can still choose to encourage vaccinations.
Professional advice may be useful.
Other frequently asked questions
Can I ask if my employees are vaccinated?
Yes, but you cannot require a response. If you are not given a response, you may assume the employee is unvaccinated (but you must also advise the employee of your assumption). This is medical information that must be kept private.
Can I ask a potential employee if they are vaccinated during an interview?
If your risk assessment shows it is required for employees to be vaccinated, then you may ask that question.
What can employees who are worried about unvaccinated co-workers or visitors do?
Under the Health and Safety at Work Act, employees may stop work or refuse to carry out tasks that expose them or others to health and safety risks. Again, this is where the risk assessment will provide the answer.
Where practical, we encourage you to look at alternatives for those concerned workers, such as working remotely.
Can spreading misinformation about COVID-19 vaccinations in the workplace be considered employee misconduct?
Often, an employee’s employment agreement will guide what constitutes misconduct, for example, breaches of health and safety or harming the employer’s reputation. Someone sharing their opinion in the smoko room will be unlikely to make the threshold. Seek legal advice.
Can we turn away unvaccinated customers?
Broadly speaking, you have the right to admit or exclude any person from entering your premises. Your obligations under the Human Rights Act mean that you cannot deny them service if they are unvaccinated for disability, religious, or ethical reasons. You may consider offering the service remotely.
The risk assessment is the best basis for determining who can and cannot enter business premises.
The Government is developing legislation to support the COVID-19 Protection Framework; specific requirements for customer vaccination certificates will come into force when we switch to that framework.
How can I encourage vaccinations in my workplace?
- Provide information about the benefits of vaccinations – keep it short & sweet
- Make sure people know how to access a vaccination; facilitate appointments if needed
- Consider giving (paid) time to get to appointments
- Make sure employees know they can access sick leave if they feel unwell after a vaccination
- Promote social discussions between your employees to help break down the barriers.
The COVID-19 environment has created uncertainty in many areas, and the answers are often not simple. Please contact us for advice.