What You Need to Know on Mandating Vaccinations in the Workplace.
Across the ditch, our Australian allies within the Sign industry are currently facing a huge challenge on considering whether employers can require their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, and now in NZ we are beginning to see the flow on affect within our industry too. COVID-19 has ignited various debates about rights, choice, freedom, and divided many throughout NZ and the world with the dreaded ‘V-Word’. Many businesses in various industries across our nation are starting to think about the need to mandate vaccinations within the workplace, and whilst some employees may be scrambling to get the vaccine, others simply are hesitant or deciding not to.
During the past two years kiwi businesses have already been providing and implemented many infection control measures into workplaces that have been assisting to reduce the likelihood of the spread of COVID-19. An example of these measures is such as PPE, scanning, contactless pick up and deliveries, social distancing, and more recently vaccinations – all helping to reduce the contraction rates. Now the government believe that raising our vaccination rates will enable us to manage and mitigate the virus, and that we will be able to open our businesses again, back to a new normal, but with these new changes on the horizon brings a whole lot of new regulations and rules, does making vaccinations mandatory within a workplace make good sense, or is this simply unsettling and unfair.
Employers now more than ever need to engage, communicate and manage their employees in the best and most fair way possible to ensure there are no jobs losses or unfair dismissals down the track. Therefore, to further assess if your business should be mandating vaccinations for your employees, we share some food for thought so you can consider making the best decision for your business and employees.
Consider keeping your employment contracts as generic as possible. Keep in mind that this is not a business-as-usual time, and there is great risks that we may make bad decisions because we are in the eye of the storm. Each sign maker is unique and has different requirements so therefore each scenario should be dealt with case by case. It will not be until next year when we may see some COVID dismissals work their way through the courts as to where the some of the weak points of a generic employment agreement may be. So, in the meantime tread carefully, do your due diligence, as implementing solutions now may not be the right change your business needs in the future.
Is it Lawful and Reasonable?
The answer to that question will be highly fact specific, all relevant factors must be considered if thinking of mandating vaccinations. To establish the reasonableness of a direction to get employees vaccinated, a risk assessment and consultation with employees must be undertaken. This may affect workflow if you employ contractors for installs, as your clients may request a fully vaccinated worker, this will be one of the many looming issues and especially for those you who have clients in the health sector. Review the employee’s circumstances, including the nature and risks of the duties they perform in their working day-to-day environment that may be prone to infect or spread where close contact with vulnerable people arises. Your focus as an employer in the risk assessment must be on the role – the work being done – rather than the individual performing the role. If you cannot direct an employee to be vaccinated, consider encouraging them to receive the vaccination by offering them paid work hours (or paid leave if done outside work hours) and cover any additional costs associated.
Preparation is Key
While the proposed legislation is not yet in effect, you can begin to assess your workplace and vaccination requirement options using the detailed guidance provided by WorkSafe. The law will include to complete a risk assessment process for employers to follow when deciding whether they can require vaccination for different types of roles within the workplace. This will cover factors like, who workers interact with during their working day, how close that contact is too public and if worker is within an enclosed space or outside. By beginning to establish a workplace risk assessment plan and communicating with your employees now, will result in a better outcome for everyone once the law comes into effect. Managing and identifying the key risk factors for those workers that are out engaging with public or customers, completing installs off site, in both enclosed or outside spaces will impact any extra controls you may need to set in place to ensure your workers and public are kept safe from the spread of the virus.
In summary, think twice about how you implement COVID clauses into employment contracts. When assessing those workers that you believe need to be vaccinated to carry out work, ensure that a thorough and fair risk assessment is done on their role, and communicate with the employee and/or representatives if necessary to achieve the best outcome for all, even if the outcome is redeployment. Finally, start with the preparation now, get the groundwork done so when the legislation does come into effect you are ready to action your plans and assessments and can begin the new year with a positive and transparent foot forward.
Employment New Zealand: