This article was written by Priscilla Dickinson, and published on Newshub (8 September 2021).

Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is free and reduces the risk of getting seriously ill and transmitting the virus to others.

Ministry of Health figures on Monday show 3.95 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered: 62 percent of the eligible population have received a first dose and 32 percent a second dose. But as getting vaccinated is a choice, employees who haven’t made a decision, or choose not to be, may be wondering whether they have to tell their employer. And if by not getting vaccinated, they’re putting their job at risk.

Under the COVID-19 Public Health Response (Vaccinations) Order 2021, people in certain workplaces, such as managed isolation and quarantine facilities and aircrew members, are required to be vaccinated.

Jennifer Mills, director at Jennifer Mills and Associates, told Newshub under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, all workers are responsible for ensuring their decisions (‘acts’ or ‘omissions’) don’t affect the health and safety of others. Employees don’t have to be vaccinated to meet this duty, she said. But COVID-19 health and safety measures are important.

“Employees should follow COVID-19 response measures, such as the use of personal protective equipment, following social distancing and ventilating indoor spaces to promote a safe and healthy workplace and minimise the risk of catching and spreading the COVID-19 virus,” Mills said.

She answers specific questions for existing and new employees below.

Existing employees

Q. My employer has asked if I’m vaccinated – do I have to tell them?

Under the Privacy Act 2020, a person’s vaccination status is considered personal information.

If an employer wants to know whether an employee is vaccinated, it must be for a lawful purpose, such as for health and safety reasons. An employer can collect this information if it’s reasonably necessary to do so. For example, there may be a risk that employees coming into a shared workspace are exposed to the virus.

Employees can choose whether to respond. If they don’t respond, their employer can assume they’re not vaccinated.

“If an employee doesn’t disclose their vaccination status, an employer can assume that they’re  unvaccinated for health and safety reasons,” Mills said. Employees can expect their employer to inform them of any implications this may have on their employment.

“However, the company must inform employees of this assumption and the implications (if any) for the employee, of being unvaccinated,” Mills added.

Q. If I choose not to be vaccinated, can my employer take adverse action against me?

This comes down to whether the job can be carried out safely without being vaccinated, Mills said.

“Some employers, after completing a full risk assesment, may determine that certain work or roles must only be performed by vaccinated workers,” Mills said. “This may arise where there is a reasonably high level of risk of contracting COVID-19 or transmitting [it] and to others, or where there are heightened potential consequences of being infected by COVID-19,” Mills added.

New employees

Q. Can an employer ask for proof of vaccination before offering me a job?

Yes. Employers can ask for proof of vaccination as a term of a new employment agreement, Mills said. But the requirement to be vaccinated must be reasonable for the role, for example, if there’s a legitimate health and safety reason.

The Employment Relations Act 2000 and the Human Rights Act 1993 protect workers from discrimination based on certain grounds, such as religious beliefs and disability (under the Human Rights Act, ‘disability’ includes physical and psychiatric illness). “The hiring initiative ought to include provisions that address situations where workers are not vaccinated because of their religious beliefs or their disability / medical condition rather than a blanket ban,” Mills said.

At a COVID-19 update on Tuesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the Government was finalising arrangements for additional vaccine supply, before a bulk delivery due in October.  Her plea to New Zealanders was, “please get vaccinated”. “Please use the coming weeks to really push our vaccination rates as high as possible so we can protect our loved ones from COVID, to avoid having to use level 4 lockdowns in the future,” Ardern said.

Kiwis who weren’t yet vaccinated could go to to make a booking, go to their GP, or show up at a local drive-through centre.

A Ministry of Health spokesperson said it’s COVID-19 vaccination plan is to offer vaccination to everyone who is eligible by the end of the year.

But people who, for various reasons won’t be vaccinated before the end of the year will still be able to be vaccinated. “For this reason, health providers will continue to offer vaccinations into 2022,” the Ministry of Health spokesperson said.