23/02/2021·1 min to read
Can NZ employers take a “no jab, no job” approach to Covid-19 vaccinations?
The first Covid-19 vaccines were administered to frontline workers over the weekend. However, the Government has advised that it will not be making the vaccines mandatory for the New Zealand public.
From an employment perspective, this raises questions as to how to manage vaccinations in the workplace in the absence of a government mandate. While vaccination strategies will vary depending on an employer’s circumstances, we provide guidance for employers who are considering requiring current employees to vaccinate.
While employers can “encourage” employees to be vaccinated, if there is no significant risk of infection in the workplace then requiring vaccinations will require justification. The starting point is that under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, all individuals have the right to refuse medical treatment, which includes being injected with a vaccine. The human right not to be discriminated against on, say, religious or disability grounds also needs to be considered. However, given the very real risk Covid-19 presents, there will be circumstances where a requirement to be vaccinated in order to carry out duties may be lawful. This will depend on a number of factors specific to your workplace, such as:
- What do your employment agreements provide? Requiring a new employee’s agreement to be vaccinated as a condition of commencing employment is likely to be lawful in most circumstances, However, employers must exercise caution when deciding not to hire an employee whose refusal to be vaccinated is linked to a human right such as religion or disability.
- What risks are you managing in your workplace by seeking to require vaccinations?
- Are you providing a safe and healthy workplace if you don’t require vaccinations?
- What is the effectiveness and availability of the vaccine versus other control measures?
- Are there going to be government directions or guidance in relation to vaccinations, and will they be industry specific?
- Can other steps be taken to achieve the same outcome of minimising the spread of the virus, such as physical distancing, mask wearing and/or sanitising?
- Is it relevant what the prevalence of the virus is at the time vaccinations are being required?
If your business is considering a vaccination policy for employees as part of your response to Covid-19, please feel free to contact us for advice specific to your workforce.