This guidance is issued under s95(a) of the Public Service Act 2020. It applies to public sector agencies[1] and their employees. Agency chief executives are responsible for deciding how to apply this guidance in the particular context of their agency. In applying this guidance, it is important that agencies take a consistent approach and model what is expected for the rest of New Zealand. Agencies should fully engage unions and health and safety representatives from an early stage in their vaccination roll-out.

This guidance has been prepared based on known policy settings. If these change, this guidance will be reviewed and updated as necessary. It will be reviewed as more information on the efficacy rates of COVID-19 vaccines and their impact on transmission rates becomes available.

Agencies will be notified if there is any change. Always check this webpage for the latest version.

Introduction

COVID-19 vaccines will play a critical role in protecting New Zealanders’ health and wellbeing. On 3 February 2021, Medsafe the medicines safety authority approved the first Covid-19 vaccine for use in New Zealand. It has been robustly assessed to ensure it meets international standards and local requirements for quality and safety.

The Government has announced a sequenced roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines for priority groups to receive the vaccine before roll-out to the general public. The first of the priority groups is the Border/MIQ workforce (and household contacts).

Further information on the vaccine strategy is available from the COVID-19 website here.

The Government has decided that the COVID-19 vaccination will be free of charge and readily accessible. The Government, public service and unions are all working together to ensure that this roll-out occurs as soon as possible. It will not be mandatory for the New Zealand public.

Guidance

The goal of the Government is to ensure that all those who can, are vaccinated. To support this, there is an expectation that all employees in the public service should be vaccinated. Information and support will be provided to enable informed decisions - the final decision on vaccination rests with the individual. In making that choice, there may be consequences for others – in order to minimise or eliminate those consequences, agencies will need to work with individual employees on their options while respecting their choice.

Key objectives/principles

  1. Manage the health and safety of all people in the workplace
  2. Support the Government’s vaccination programme
  3. Protect the border - keep the virus out
  4. Ensure employees are not disadvantaged nor incur cost in being vaccinated

Plan: all agencies need a vaccination plan irrespective of whether workplaces have priority groups on site. The vaccination plan should reflect the size and role of the agency.

  • Work with the Ministry of Health to develop a vaccination roll-out plan to ensure all staff can be vaccinated. For priority groups this plan should include delivery of vaccines on-site.
  • Engage unions and staff in the planning of the vaccination roll out programme. Recognise the leadership role that union delegates can play and enlist their support for the programme.
  • Segment the workforce according to the Ministry of Health vaccination strategy and prioritise your workforces accordingly.
  • Monitor uptake, through Ministry of Health, and review your agency’s communications, expectations, and support as needed.
  • Keep up to date with Ministry of Health advice including vaccine effectiveness and impact on transmission.
  • Ensure managers are aware of obligations in regard to employee privacy and any cultural considerations.

Educate: ensure staff and unions have quality and up to date information about vaccines and the vaccination programme

  • Provide the most up to date information available from the Ministry of Health on the benefits of vaccination to individuals and the community.
  • Inform staff of the priority groups on the vaccination programme and key milestones in the roll-out plan for other staff.
  • Ensure staff are aware of your plan to work with unions and health and safety representatives to share and disseminate information.
  • Remind staff of the need to continue to practice prevention control measures in line with Ministry of Health advice (e.g. appropriate use of PPE, practise good hygiene, maintain physical distancing, keep track of where you’ve been, stay home if you are sick).
  • Reassure staff regarding the importance of privacy and sensitivity of health information and ensure that where any data is collected by the employer, it is safely collected and secured and only accessed by appropriate personnel.

Expect: set an expectation that all staff should be vaccinated

  • Communicate an expectation that all staff who are able to be vaccinated will be vaccinated.
  • Appropriate leaders should role model the expectation by being vaccinated early in the programme in line with priorities and the Ministry of Health roll-out strategy.
  • For at-risk workforces, consider introducing a requirement for new employees to be vaccinated into employment agreements by agreement with any relevant unions.
  • Ask staff to agree to provide their employer with information on whether they have been vaccinated. Ensure employees are aware of what information will be provided, how it will be used, and the purpose for which the information is being collected.

Support: ensure vaccines are available to all staff, provide clear options for those who are not vaccinated.

  • Vaccines should be administered in the workplace where possible
  • Employees should be paid for the time required for working through the vaccination process – either normal working time or on special paid leave
  • Any time off required to deal with effects from the vaccine is to be treated as paid special leave.
  • Set timeframes in the roll-out plan that enable staff to make an informed decision on being vaccinated.
  • Acknowledge that some staff may wish to get more information about the vaccine before being vaccinated.
  • Ensure that opportunities are available for staff to ask questions and that union officials, union delegates and Health and Safety representatives are included in these meetings.

Options/process for those staff who are not vaccinated

Where an employee is not intending to be vaccinated (for any reason), undertake a health and safety risk assessment to determine whether the work can be done safely by non-vaccinated employees. Factors to assess:

  • nature of the work done by the employee or category of employees, e.g. is it covered by the mandatory testing order?
  • risk of exposure (to and from the employee) using the latest advice from the Ministry of Health
  • effectiveness of other options to mitigate the risk of exposure
  • whether reasonable adjustments can be made to accommodate the employee (akin to disability)

The assessment may determine that the employee cannot perform all of the duties of their current role. In this case, consider options such as (not an exhaustive list):

  1. Offer redeployment to suitable alternative duties within the agency
  2. Offer temporary redeployment to suitable alternative duties in a different agency. Agencies can utilise the Te Kawa Mataaho Workforce Deployment service, via the agencies’ HR Head. Enquires to COVIDdeployment@publicservice.govt.nz
  3. Provide paid special leave for a reasonable time (to be determined based on legal advice)

If other options are being considered, such as leave without pay, please consult with the Public Service Commission in the first instance.

The vaccination programme is an important part of keeping New Zealanders safe from COVID-19. Further policy decisions may require this guidance to change. Agencies will be notified if there is any change to the guidance. Always check you are applying the latest version.


[1] The organisations to which this guidance applies are:

(a) public service agencies:

(b) the New Zealand Police, the New Zealand Defence Force, and the Parliamentary Counsel Office:

(c) Crown agents or other Crown entities:

(d) organisations listed in Schedule 4, and companies listed in Schedule 4A, of the Public Finance Act 1989:

(e) the Reserve Bank of New Zealand.

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