Vaccinations in the Workplace

Vaccinations in the Workplace

Covid-19 vaccinations in the workplace

COVID-19 vaccines will play a critical role in protecting the health and wellbeing of people in New Zealand which will enable our social, economic, and cultural recovery.
Workplaces in New Zealand will be essential in making access to vaccines as easy as possible for all those employed in them – including employees and independent contractors. To help New Zealand’s COVID-19 Immunisation Programme succeed, the Government is recommending employers encourage and support their workforce (including part time, casual and independent contractors) to get vaccinated.

This could include:

  • facilitating on-site vaccinations
  • allowing workers to get vaccinated during work hours without loss of pay, and
  • providing workers with relevant and timely information from the Ministry of Health about vaccination and its benefits.

What are my responsibilities as an employer in relation to the Covid-19 vaccine?

The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 states that employers have an obligation to ensure a safe workplace, as reasonably as they can, and vaccinations can be critical to this. Therefore, an employer must do what is reasonably practicable to reduce the likelihood of infection in the workplace.

As it is not mandatory, what can employers do to get their employees vaccinated?

Ideally, all the workforce would choose to be vaccinated to control the risk of infection, some may not, therefore a business must have additional health and safety plans in place to manage these circumstances.

Can an employer request its employees to be vaccinated?

The employer can request but cannot require an existing employee to be vaccinated.

If an employee refuses to be vaccinated, what can an employer do?

In relation to health and safety in the workplace, a PCBU (person conducting a business or undertaking) must ensure health and safety as far as reasonably practicable.

Given the current state of transmission in New Zealand, where workplaces have been able to operate safely without vaccinated staff, it will currently be hard to argue that a person being unvaccinated is a significant health and safety risk but that will depend on the industry and any further changes (such as borders opening).

The employer can ask employees whether they have been vaccinated for risk assessment purposes. If an employee declined to provide the information, the employer should proceed as though the employee has not been vaccinated but should first inform the employee of this assumption.

If workers in the workplace are not vaccinated, the PCBU should do a risk assessment to decide if further control measures are needed to reduce the risk of transmission. Alternative control measures could include (but are not limited to): lower risk duties or worksites for the worker; eliminating or limiting close or face to face interaction with others; working from home where possible; increased social distancing requirements; increased hygiene and cleaning practices; additional training and posters; temperature checks; and additional PPE.

If an employer believes on reasonable grounds that there is a real and imminent risk to health and safety which can only be adequately addressed by vaccine (this is only likely to be in very limited situations where close contact is unavoidable and PPE not wholly effective e.g. health care situations) the employer must consult with the employee and explore all reasonable alternatives and it will only be when all other options are exhausted, that termination of employment would be justifiable. The employer should take specific expert advice on the health and safety requirements, risk and employment implications.

If your employee refuses to be vaccinated, taking no further action to prevent infection in your workplace will not satisfy your legal health, safety, and wellbeing obligations.

Can I make vaccinations a condition of recruitment?

Employers can require vaccination as a condition for new employees, but only where this is reasonable for the role e.g. where the employer has identified real and imminent risk to an employee working without vaccination and has considered alternatives. This is only likely to be reasonable in limited circumstances such as nursing homes.
Employers need to be careful that they are not exposing themselves to discrimination claims by rejecting an employee based on the candidate’s decision to refuse vaccination. That decision could be based on a pre-existing medical condition or religious grounds. Given the current state of transmission in New Zealand, where workplaces have been able to operate safely without vaccinated staff, it will currently be hard to state that a person being unvaccinated is a significant health and safety risk unless the business is particularly high risk or there is a law change. However, when NZ’s borders reopen, this may create a different situation.

Can employees take leave when they get vaccinated?

If an employer is asking an employee to receive the vaccine, then the employee should be paid for the time it takes to get the vaccine. If the employer is encouraging employees to receive the vaccine, the employer should discuss time off work and whether the time will be paid with the employee and come to a mutual agreement. Employers should consider whether allowing paid time off work will help encourage staff to receive the vaccine.

Vaccination Policy – Our Recommendation.

Start now by thinking about factors specific to your particular workplace including:

  • What do your employment agreements include? 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?
  • Are other steps being 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?

Commence conversations with your employees about COVID-19 vaccinations as soon as possible. The consultation and support approach is the best way. Remember that all discussions about COVID-19 vaccination must be fair and reasonable and done in good faith.

Keep up to date with information that is provided on NZ government websites and think about where your business and workers fit in the vaccine rollout. Share information with your team.

Make vaccination as easy as possible for your people.

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 situation.

Managing Employee Engagement and Productivity Post COVID-19

Managing Employee Engagement and Productivity Post COVID-19

Managing Employee Engagement and Productivity Post COVID-19

Managing Employee Engagement and Productivity Post COVID-19 – As many employees return to offices, employers should expect to notice some subtle changes in employee behaviour that may warrant focus for the early weeks back at work – particularly in light of potential restructures.

While the closedown has been stressful for employers, so also has the sudden separation from peers and adjustment to working remotely, in some cases under revised employment conditions & pay rates for your employees.

Employees are well aware of the challenges that employers face in the current uncertain environment – and they are aware of what that may mean for their future employment – creating a potentially stressful return to work environment for many.
Anxious employees are generally more distracted, make more errors and have less energy overall. This is a normal human response to increased levels of anxiety.

Here are our recommended actions for employers in the early stages to reassure and refocus employees.

Speak to your team as a group and as individuals.

While this may be a drain on your time, employees are reliant on you for their income and they need to know where they stand.
Commence restructure conversations as soon as possible, and be decisive about your actions and communications in this area.
People would rather know and make plans than not know and worry. The processes for restructure and redundancy is clear – the consultation & communication process takes a number of weeks, so it really is better to get your plan sorted, then executed. Be sure you remain compliant with all processes – the regulations around employment remain in place as pre COVID. Employers are obliged to follow a process with consultation & consideration.

Consider training & development opportunities

In considering your succession plan and skill gap map as part of your overall restructure planning, a period of reduced productivity for your business may be an excellent time to consider skill training for some employees to close skill gaps and test aptitude in new areas.

Enable input to innovation or pivot ideas

While this process needs to be carefully managed for expectations, high performing employees will relish the opportunity to contribute to pivot concepts for your business – these employees have most likely spend some time considering areas of opportunity during the close down. It will be fantastic for them to brainstorm ideas under supervision – and who knows, some of the ideas might be fabulous suggestions that you had not yet considered.
Enforce your operational and behavioural standards
All your employees have been absent for a lengthy period. Make sure your standards of behaviour including dress code & working hours are back in place immediately – this will give employees a sense of ‘normal’ that will help them click back into gear.
This will be reasonably easy to slide into the conversation as you reinforce new distancing & tracking protocols in place for the return to work safely guidelines.

Be available

Unless you have a reason to be absent from the workplace – and of course distancing protocols will be required, but make sure you are available for your team. While employers have had a hugely stressful time – don’t forget your entire team has also been stressed – and many of them will have been worried about you, your business and their employment. Allow people to chat and reconnect with you in their own time.

Managing Employee Engagement and Productivity Post COVID-19

The Difference Between Redundancy & Restructuring

The Difference Between Redundancy & Restructuring

The Difference Between Redundancy & Restructuring

With so much pressure on employers in 2020 due to COVID-19 – the introduction of work from home, social distancing and hygiene practices to prevent a second wave during Level 3 Alert, some employers will also need to consider restructuring and potentially disestablishing some positions to navigate their business forward.

Firstly, it is important to note that employers are obliged to act in good faith and in the interests of employees as well as in the interests of their business at all times.

All considerations in regards to restructures – and potential resulting redundancies must be fully transparent.

Employers have the right to act in accordance with the requirements of their business, but a process must be followed in the area of altering the structure – whether it be for business growth or reduction.

Restructures are commonly assessed due to a change of market and trading environment, an acquisition or a change in direction in business strategy.

Firstly, by way of definition, redundancy (otherwise termed as role disestablishment) is the outcome of a restructuring process, and would usually be considered the last resort in terms of the employee or employees concerned.

Role disestablishment does not always mean the termination of an employee’s contract – very commonly where a role is disestablished, the employee is moved into another broader (or more specialised) role.

The single most important consideration is whether or not the role is required in the immediate and foreseeable future for the business.

To begin the process of business restructure, the business plan must first be put in place and all resources – inclusive of workforce, taken into consideration.

Where workforce is concerned, the skill matrix identifying gaps and overlaps is a key element. While a downsized structure due to pressure on profitability and business viability is in question, succession planning must also be considered and the business plan needs to examine areas of potential growth and increased margin.

In this regard, your overall restructuring strategy may well require the introduction of new or higher skills in some areas – or specific requirements for experience and expertise may be sought out for business plan progression into new avenues.
A restructure does not necessarily mean a chopping of employee numbers (although this is commonly the outcome). Every aspect of business must be carefully considered.

Where role disestablishment is the only option – and no new role can be established for the employee in the role, redundancy due to role disestablishment takes place.

Careful communication with the employee concerned is required. Redundancy is very stressful for employees and it’s important that it is not a surprise – and equally important that all avenues for retaining or repositioning this employee are evaluated.

Employees faced with disestablishment must be paid all owing holiday pay in their final pay cycle, they must be allowed time to attend interviews if they wish to and they may also be offered outplacement support – which involves assisting them with CV optimisation, prepares them for successful interviewing and ensures they are feeling as optimistic and positive as is reasonably possible under the circumstances.

If employers are feeling unsure about the correct process to follow – ensuring compliance and risk minimisation during this process, professional HR support is recommended.

For full and detailed guidance, please contact us and one of our consultants will be happy to assist you, or you may wish to consider purchasing our Restructure & Redundancy Toolkit from this website.

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Health & Safety Under Level 3 & Level 2 Alert

Health & Safety Under Level 3 & Level 2 Alert

Health & Safety Under Level Three

The NZ government has announced a return to level three for businesses who are able to do so safely.

In most cases, this means contact-free, but for some businesses who are able to maintain physical distancing between employees, that may mean reopening your workplace.

There are a number of key health & safety considerations that you must evaluate and put into place before employees can safely return to work at commercial premises. Wherever possible, employees should work remotely during Level Three.

Please note also that employees must have been trained in all aspects of workplace safety before they reenter the premises.

Here are the primary considerations for employers reopening a place of work:

  • Full risk assessment to be carried out and documented. This should include:
  • Workspace cleaning and disinfectant protocols.
  • Workstation distance.
  • Entrance and exit hygiene and traffic protocols to ensure all sanitising is taken place and that distancing protocols are enabled.
  • Number of employees on-site to be limited at all times, with team crossover protocols clearly in place.

Have teams stay in bubbles

The key to managing the spread of COVID-19 has been to enable a very swift lockdown of any infection. As the country emerges into level three, the nature of the bubbles will change for those who are working – but it is very important that bubble protocol is still in place as much as possible – to enable swift contact tracing.

All employees must be aware that they need to stay within their team bubble – and to maintain distancing measures at the workplace.
This means that all employees on-site will need to work within micro teams – and to ensure hygiene standards are upheld by all. These standards will need to be established (or approved) by the business owner – as the person responsible for the welfare & safety of all employees.

You may find the shift splitting enables a better workflow – with smaller teams working in rotation, but do ensure that full disinfection is carried out in between teams if the equipment is to be handled by more than one person.

Pre-Return to Work Health Checks

Any employee showing symptoms of COVID-19 should be required to get a test. These are available all around the country with no requirement for a medical referral. Everyone showing any symptom of COVID-19 is encouraged to go for the test.
Reporting Systems for Symptoms Developed after Returning to Work

Any employee developing symptoms of any kind after the return to work must follow a standard process to notify the business owner or designated manager. The entire team bubble needs to be isolated until tests can be conducted and the results returned (usually within 24 hours). A positive test will mean that the entire team in the bubble concerned will have to wait 14 days in isolation before returning to work. The department of health will advise their protocols should this occur, but a full contact register will be required from the employer.

When in doubt, the person in charge on-site MUST call Healthline on 0800 358 5453 for advice.

Maintain a Contact Register

Every employee in your place of employment will be required to maintain a full and complete register of every contact made to enable fast contact tracing. It will be the responsibility of the employer to ensure this is done. To contact track on a daily basis is the most effective way of managing contact lists.

Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)

In most cases, high levels of hygiene, physical distancing and physical barriers (contact-free delivery management for example), will be sufficient. If your employees are unable to manage distancing and are not essential workers, they should not be returning to work.

Employers will need to ensure however that employees are clear about hand hygiene standards and that they adhere to them, plus exit and entrance sanitisation protocols.

Other safety considerations

Standard safety protocols outside of COVID-19 are still a primary concern for the employer. Make sure that you are not introducing other safety risks in changing the workplace to allow for workstation distance. Also, consider any safety risks due to reduced team sizes. As always, safety must come first in every workplace. If you are unable to operate your business safely – with reduced numbers of employees on-site, each distanced from the others, you may not restart your operation.


Communication Essentials for Remote Team Members

Communication Essentials for Remote Team Members

Communication with remote employees is a complex topic.

Communication Essentials for Remote Team Members – People are people and react in different ways to different types of communication. Choosing the right method will be key to your success in keeping your team positive and proactive if they were suddenly required to work remotely.

In recent times, many employers and employees have been required to adapt to a remote working situation without drills – and in some instances, even without much notice. This is completely different to employees choosing to work remotely!

From an employer’s point of view, in a digital world, employees can be allowed similar levels of access as they are in the office.

Some people need lots of contact, some people need clear and repeated direction and some are able to carry on and just require check-ins.

The same will apply in a remote situation, with a degree of amplification.

Those who need continued contact and reassurance will probably become somewhat anxious, while those who are happy to keep calm and carry on will need to be called in for their check-in!

The key is to keep people connected and on track – bear in mind that some will feel out of sorts, so having a Zoom Room or Hangouts open during standard office hours & rostering your managers or senior team to be present in those spaces across the day will keep most in a zone of comfort.

Some digital tools that your managers could investigate to keep their team members focused and relaxed could include:

  • Morning team briefings via Zoom with follow up notes in the chatbox distributed to all.
  • Shared files on Google Drive or Office 365 updated in real-time.
  • Slack Channels by key sub-topic to keep the team updated – just as they would across the office. Slack integrates with Google Drive, Gmail, MS Onedrive, Outlook Calendar, Dropbox, SalesForce, Zoom, Asana & Trello – it’s a brilliant tool for managing communications across multiple topics without being overwhelming and even has an in-built App for Polls & Surveys called Polly to capture feedback and team culture.
  • Voxer is a wonderful app that is super useful in situations where the use of voice is better than typing messages, but a record of the conversation is required. Voxer has the option of typing text style or via voice communication and can be used one to one, within a group conversation or a one way broadcast to all from a group manager.Vocal communication can sometimes be more effective in communicating a message than written communication, where the tone of voice helps the receiver understand the unwritten emotion or attitude – and it is of course much more time efficient for busy managers.
  • Finally, enabling TeamViewer on computers may also assist where people get stuck and visual insight to what they are working on is required.
    Be sure to advise people before jumping on a TeamViewer link so they can clear their screen of anything that may be confidential – and assure them that they must approve the connection before you can view their screen so they do not feel invaded.
    Instituting Quiet Time Zones in each day will enable focused productivity. Zoom Rooms should show an on screen notice to ensure everyone is clear that it’s a no-fly zone until the next catch-up.

Virtual Afternoon Tea Zoom Rooms – created especially for team chats will help people feel connected by seeing everyone on screen – but you will need to invite them to speak one at a time (people can initiate private chats with any particular person in the chatbox if they wish to during these, but most tend not to be comfortable in doing so at first).

Other things that will help keep people stay in office mode will be to ensure employees maintain your required dress code – including uniform if they usually are required to wear uniform, ensure that office hours are maintained – including clear breaks, and that designated manager roles are nominated so employees know who to go to for things like technical problems and how to best reach out to that person.

By creating out of office protocols and embracing new modes of communication, you may even find a new way of managing business communications after the team has safety returned to your premises.

Finally, when ‘back to normal’ is re-established – make sure you celebrate and get feedback on everyone’s experience.

Communication Essentials for Remote Team Members