COVID-19 Vaccinations More Important Than Ever – Employer Obligations

Published March 01, 2021 (last updated January 25, 2022) - [email protected]
NZ Vaccine Rollout

As Auckland once again faces another several days of Alert Level 3 COVID-19 restrictions, and the rest of the country Alert Level 2, employers are under increasing financial and emotional stress.

As the vaccine starts its rollout across New Zealand, business owners seeking to have their employees vaccinated over the coming months need to be aware of their workplace vaccination rights, responsibilities and options.

Employers cannot legally require an individual to be vaccinated, however, if an employer believes there is a real and imminent risk to health and safety if an employee does not receive the vaccine, the employer may need to consider implementing alternative working measures.  A health and safety risk assessment must first be undertaken to support such a requirement, and employers must do this assessment in collaboration with workers, unions, and other representatives.

“An employer has a duty to do everything reasonably practicable to increase health and safety in the workplace,” said Gabby Adds, Advice Services Team Leader at Employsure, New Zealand’s largest workplace relations advisor.

“Business owners looking to make their workplace safer should consider introducing a detailed infection control policy which addresses vaccinations and an immunisation program.

“Existing infection control measures, such as physical distancing, routine environmental cleaning, and the use of hand-sanitiser and personal protective equipment may be satisfactory to meet health and safety obligations without requiring employees to get vaccinated.”

While workers do not have to tell their employer if they have been vaccinated, or give their reason behind it, employers can still ask the question. Employers should assume a worker is unvaccinated if they do not disclose their vaccination status, and should inform that worker of this assumption.

As New Zealanders start to receive the vaccine, employers may want to monitor which of their staff are immunised. People management software such as BrightHR have features built-in that allow employers to tick off who has received the jab, and keep track of those who have not.

Regardless of a worker’s vaccination status, employers must protect this information and cannot share it without that worker’s consent. In certain cases where employers feel the risk to their workers is too great, alternative working measures should be considered.

“Employers can follow a fair process to make reasonable changes to an employee’s duties for health and safety reasons if that employee is not vaccinated,” continued Ms Adds.

“An employer should consult with employees who refuse a COVID-19 vaccination and discuss alternative measures that can help them do their job safely. Limiting or eliminating face to face interaction, similar to what we’ve seen over the past year with employees working from home, is one of the best options employers have when trying to stop the spread in a workplace where not every worker wants to be vaccinated.

“In the event of a worker falling ill, employers may need to direct them to stay away from the workplace and self-isolate. Employers will need to consider whether workers are entitled to sick leave or able to utilise paid or unpaid leave entitlements.

“The employer may also be able to access the Short-Term Absence Payment or the Leave Support Scheme to support paying those impacted. This is especially important for those in Auckland affected by these sudden, snap lockdowns.

“The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine is the largest immunisation program in history and we’ll undoubtedly see some opposition to it. It is up to employers to encourage their workers to get vaccinated, provide them with relevant information from the Ministry of Health, and allow workers who want the jab during work hours the right to do so without loss of pay,” she concluded.


Media Enquires:

Matthew Bridges
[email protected]

Have a question?

Have a question that hasn't been answered? Fill in the form below and one of our experts will contact you back.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Call Now

0800 568 012

Live Chat

Click here