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The Covid-19 Vaccination and your employees

A number of employers are asking questions about how to handle situations where employees choose not to get vaccinated, as well as what is appropriate to ask job applicants about their intended vaccination status. 

Understandably, this is a matter fraught with uncertainty, because the Employment Relations Act 2000, the Health & Safety at Work Act 2015, and the Human Rights Act 1993, conflict with each other, in principle. 

Employers do need to be sensitive to the fact that some people in your team may hold different views – even if you want your whole business to be fully vaccinated, you can’t push them along – unless it’s a requirement of their role.  You also can’t discriminate against your employees if you disagree with their stance on vaccinations. 

We’ve put together some simple FAQs to assist:

Can I change my employment agreements to add in something that requires my employees to be vaccinated?

The only time you can make getting a vaccination a term of employment, is if it’s reasonable for the role, that is, a health and safety risk.  In this case you need to first assess the exposure risk for the role; involving workers, their unions (if relevant), and other representatives in this assessment process, before deciding how you might eliminate/minimise risks.

If you determine, after this process, that a role is only able to be performed by a vaccinated person, you’ll need to negotiate any variations to existing agreements with employees.  This might include redeploying an employee to a different role in your business (after consultation), if they do not wish to get vaccinated but have been assessed as a risk for exposure in their current role.

My worker doesn’t want to get vaccinated, but other employees have said they don’t feel safe working alongside them because they aren’t vaccinated – what are my options?

Vaccinations are a touchy, and personal, subject – especially when people have differing views.  From a workplace safety perspective, although other workers may not feel comfortable, unless they are in a role where a vaccination is required for health and safety reasons, work is unlikely to be unsafe just because they are around unvaccinated workers.

What sort of privacy issues should I be aware of?

You must respect your employees’ privacy around their vaccination status – it is treated as personal information under the Privacy Act.  You can share information about it unless you have their permission – this means even in small, tightknit teams, you need to be careful to protect everyone’s privacy.

This also means you may not even be aware of everyone’s vaccination status.  Generally, a worker doesn’t have to tell you if they have been, or intend to get, vaccinated.  You can expressly ask them about it if a role can’t be done by someone who’s unvaccinated.  If they choose not to tell you, or can’t offer proof, you can treat them as unvaccinated, but you need to tell them that’s what you’re doing, and the potential consequences (if any).

Can I exclude unvaccinated people (customers, visitors) from our workplace to minimise the risk of spreading the virus?

You’re unlikely to know someone’s vaccination status, as they don’t have to tell you.  You are also not able to discriminate against them.

What can I ask candidates in job interviews?

You can only ask a candidate if they are vaccinated if the role they are applying for has to be carried out by a vaccinated person – for health and safety reasons.

For more information contact HR Connect on 0800 131 557


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