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What Can I Do If an Employee Refuses to Get the COVID Vaccination?

Published March 01, 2021 (last updated May 20, 2022) - Head of Health and Safety
Employer has managed this employee who refused to get the covid-19 vaccination

COVID brought with it countless unprecedented changes to arguably every facet of our lives, and none more so than work. Whether it’s moving your office home or being deemed an ‘essential worker,’ we all adapted to the everchanging environment. Now, there’s a new hill to climb – the COVID-19 vaccination. 

Employers have an obligation to take reasonably practicable steps to ensure a safe workplace, and vaccinations could be a critical component.

As it stands, the Government has stated the vaccine won’t be mandatory. In addition, there are currently no legislative grounds or public health directives which permit an employer to require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 (or any other disease). 

So, the question remains:

What Are Your Options As An Employer?

Your Health and Safety at Work Obligations

Every business has a duty under health and safety legislation (HSW) to do everything reasonably practicable to reduce the risk to the health and safety of persons at work. Therefore, in relation to COVID-19 an employer must do as much as they reasonably can to reduce the likelihood of infection transmission in the workplace.

There are currently no legislative grounds or public health directives which permit an employer to mandate vaccination in the workplace. The New Zealand Bill of Rights 1990 provides the right to refuse to undergo any medical treatment, including being vaccinated.

While vaccinations form part of business’ methods of controlling the risk of infection, a business must therefore have other plans in place to manage the risk in addition to any workers being vaccinated.   

BrightSafe can help you fulfil your HSW obligations. Click here to learn how.

BrightSafe can help you make your business safer

Contact us to find out how BrightSafe workplace health and safety software can help you more easily manage some of your health and safety obligations.

Can I Request Employees to Be Vaccinated?

The Government has announced the vaccine will not be made mandatory but rather the Government will encourage New Zealanders to get vaccinated.

Therefore, if an employer believes there is a real and imminent risk to health and safety if the employee does not receive the vaccine, the employer must explore all reasonable alternatives to dismissal.  These could include (but are not limited to):

  • Working from home or another location;
  • Alternative duties;
  • Additional PPE; or
  • Enhanced safety practices, such as additional cleaning, hygiene or distancing protocols.

Note: if your employee refuses to be vaccinated, taking no further action to prevent infection in your workplace will not likely satisfy your HSW obligations.

Put a Policy Together

Left unchecked, infections – of COVID-19 or any other kind – could result in mass sick leave, an upheaval to your business process – or worse.

This policy helps you implement measures that might assist in the mitigation of risks in your workplace.

This is useful information that may assist small business owners. However, the information in this guide is of a general nature only and is not a substitute for advice from a qualified medical professional and employment relations / workplace health and safety practitioner.

This policy provides general guidance on how to:

  • Identify, assess and control infection transmission hazards
  • Operate within standard health procedures
  • Handle, use and dispose of sharps safely
  • Perform a thorough environmental cleaning
  • Manage spills of blood, body fluids and other substances
  • Dealing with COVID-19 in your workplace

COVID-19 Vaccinations Kit for Employers

This kit can help you understand and navigate vaccinations in the workplace. Free infection policy template included.

About Employsure

Employsure is one of New Zealand’s largest workplace relations advisers to small- and medium-businesses, with over 5,000 clients. We take the complexity out of workplace legislation to help small business employers protect their business and their people.

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