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Covid-19 Legislation update - Workplace Issues

By Mike Gould

Covid-19 Legislation update - Workplace Issues

We’ve heard the commentary, read the media articles, and mused over it with acquaintances – but what do the new government changes really mean for employers?

The government is passing more legislation dealing with Covid 19. It will address actions that employers may and may not take in regards to Covid-19 vaccinations, public interaction and workplace etiquette.

When announcing the law, the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety Michael Wood,  said that it was “common sense” that employees in workplaces that are either required to or can use, the My Vaccine Pass, are vaccinated.

While it is clear that some workplaces may be required to have vaccinated staff, his comments about workplaces that “can use” the pass are a little confusing. That confusion is not helped by his further statement that:

“This is regardless of whether the business chooses to require My Vaccine Passes from customers or attendees.”

We will just have to hope for some clarification later.

The legislation itself is helpful in some ways and not in others.

Its unhelpful nature is that it is “enabling legislation” i.e. it is a law that enables the Minister to make subsequent orders or regulations. It’s those subsequent orders and regulations that will contain the detail.

However, the Minister did indicate the regulations to come will give employers an “assessment tool” to decide whether particular work must be undertaken only by vaccinated employees. The details of this tool are to come later, but the Minister did indicate that it will include the following four factors:

Covid workplace

Minister Woods stated that at least three of the higher-risk indicators will need to be present before an employer can reasonably conclude that its employees must be vaccinated. He indicated that it will be optional for businesses to use the tool. It will not override any risk assessments that have already been done.

The Minister also indicated that where a third party makes vaccination a condition of the employer’s employees accessing the site, the employer can require its employees to be vaccinated.

However, for actual details of the tool, we will need to wait for the regulations.

The legislation does make some specific changes to the Employment Relations Act Including:

  • paid time off for employees to be vaccinated;
  • employers can refuse the time off only if it would unreasonably disrupt the business or the performance of the employee’s duties;
  • employees must be given reasonable written notice of the date by which they must be vaccinated;
  • an employee required to be vaccinated who does not do so can be terminated on four weeks paid written notice;
  • before giving notice, reasonable alternatives to termination need to be explored;
  • termination is cancelled if the employee gets vaccinated during the notice period;
  • employees terminated under this law still have the right to bring personal grievance claims.

If this article has raised any questions for you, we’re here to chat. Please don’t hesitate to contact Mike Gould, Partner, at 04 916 6302 or mike.gould@gibsonsheat.com.


Disclaimer: The information contained here is of a general nature and should be used as a guide only. Any reference to law is to New Zealand law and legislation. We recommend before acting on it, you consult your accountant or tax adviser