Business South’s legal team — Ronda Tokona, David Browne and Dr Kathryn McAuley — yesterday hosted a seminar, Safe or Sorry: Opening the Economy Through Vaccination, which focused on the Covid-19 vaccine in the workforce and both employee and employer rights.
About 20 local employers attended the seminar at Business South’s McBride St office, which was held on the same day as the first of the Government’s Covid vaccine mandates came into force for parts of the education and health workforces.
Before the Delta strain of Covid-19, it was expected only some jobs would need to be conducted by vaccinated staff but now it was looking like about 80%, Dr McAuley, who has a background in health law, said.
The nature of Covid-19 and associated laws and restrictions meant they were always changing and it was hard for employers to keep up, Mrs Tokona said.
‘‘It’s like we are standing on quicksand; things are changing all of the time,’’ she said.
Businesses could make the Covid vaccination compulsory for employees by either falling under one of the Government’s mandates or by justifying its need through a health and safety risk assessment, conducted under the Health and Safety Act 2015.
The assessment was required to identify the hazards and the risk level, which meant an employer was covered if it ended up in the Employment Court or before the Employment Relation Authority.
If there were staff who did not want to take the vaccination after it was made compulsory in the workplace, the employer had an obligation to support them through that process, Mrs Tokona said.
‘‘It is about support, support and more support.’’
Employers could consider putting them on paid leave for a period of time, paying for them to go to the doctor to seek advice or looking at redeploying them into another role, before termination of employment was used.
‘‘You have to be kind and supportive with them because they are people as well and they are probably making one of the toughest decision they’ve ever made.
‘‘You can’t just kick them down the road,’’ Mrs Tokona said.
Employers unsure of what to do were encouraged to seek help rather than guess what to do, Mr Browne said.
In particular, small business owners were responsible for most areas of the operation and navigating through Covid-19 was ‘‘just another hat that you have to wear’’.
‘‘Seek help because this is important,’’ Mr Browne said.