By Vaughan Granier
On 11 October 2021, the New Zealand Government announced a new vaccination mandate for two sectors in New Zealand that are critical to preventing the spread of COVID-19. Under the new health order, all school staff who work with children and most healthcare workers must be vaccinated against COVID-19 to continue in their jobs.
COVID-19 Response Minister, Chris Hipkins, says the decision will help to ensure that all unvaccinated people who work with vulnerable communities take steps to get the vaccine and reduce risk to others.
The COVID-19 Public Health Response (Vaccinations Order) 2021 will be updated to enforce this new vaccine mandate.
In this alert, I clarify what we know so far about these new requirements and how they may impact employers in these sectors.
Vaccine rules for the health and disability sector
As announced by Minister Hipkins, Cabinet has agreed upon the following scope for the new requirements in healthcare:
- High-risk workers in the health and disability sector will need to be fully vaccinated by 1 December, with their first vaccine due by 30 November if they haven’t received this already.
- The high-risk workforce in this sector includes general practitioners, pharmacists, community healthcare workers, midwives, paramedics, community health nurses and all healthcare workers who work in places where vulnerable patients are treated (such as intensive care units).
- The Government also included non-regulated services such as aged residential care, home and community support services, kaupapa Māori health providers, and NGOs that provide health services, under the new vaccine orders.
Vaccine rules for the education sector
For workers in education, the Government has confirmed the following rules and expectations:
- Schools and early-learning staff who have contact with children and students (including the support people who work with them) will need to be fully vaccinated by 1 January 2022.
- All affected workers must have received their first dose of COVID-19 by 15 November 2021.
- Up until 1 January 2022, staff who are not fully vaccinated will need to undergo weekly COVID-19 tests until they have received the required double dose.
- For the regions currently at Level 3, every school staff member must return a negative COVID-19 test before they return to work.
- Home-based educators and workers who support people in schools or early learning centres (like teachers, administrators and maintenance staff, and contractors) will also be covered by the new public health requirements.
- The Government is also asking secondary schools and Kura – where students are over 12 years – to keep a vaccine register for students from 1 January 2022. Students who can’t show evidence of vaccination will be considered unvaccinated.
- Currently, workers in the tertiary sector are excluded from the new vaccine rules. Some staff and students may be exempt from the vaccination requirement in certain circumstances.
Steps for businesses
If this new public health order impacts your business, you should consider taking the following steps to ensure compliance.
Notify your employees of the new vaccine requirements under the COVID-19 Public Health Response (Vaccinations Order) 2021.
2. Engage and encourage
Actively engage with employees to encourage compliance with vaccination requirements. At this stage, you have a good opportunity to facilitate discussions and offer support for those who are vaccine hesitant or unable to be vaccinated. It’s important to make sure that everyone is treated with dignity and care as they process these changes.
3. Request vaccinations status and capture within a vaccine register
Your workers should provide vaccination evidence for their first and second vaccine dose no later than the target dates set out by the health order for your sector. HR Assured clients can capture vaccine information within HRA Cloud.
As part of this process, it’s important to prepare letters that clearly outline how your business will treat vaccine information according to the Privacy Act 2020.
You should also inform your employees that you will treat anyone who fails to provide evidence of vaccination status as if they’re unvaccinated.
4. Managing at-risk unvaccinated workers who are not vaccinated
When the final deadline for employees becoming fully (double) vaccinated has passed, employees who are unvaccinated or do not declare vaccination evidence will be unable to continue in their role.
You may be able to redeploy them to another role or proceed with redundancy if they can’t perform other work safely. We’ll provide further guidance around this important process in due course.
If an employee does not comply with these requirements, we encourage you to seek advice before ending the employment relationship.
If this information has raised any questions or concerns, you can get in touch with the team at HR Assured – we’re always here to support you.
Clients of HR Assured can contact the 24/7 Telephone Advisory Service at any time.
If your business is not an HR Assured client, we’d like to offer you a no-obligation, complimentary 30-minute consultation call. Employers can speak to our friendly workplace relations consultants and seek advice about this new legislation or an existing workplace issue. You can arrange your complimentary consultation here.
Vaughan Granier is the National Workplace Relations Manager for HR Assured NZ. He has over 24 years of experience in international human resources, health and safety, and workplace relations management. With over 10 years working in New Zealand and Australian companies, he provides in-depth support to leadership teams across HR, Health and Safety, and employee management.