Changes to the COVID-19 Protection Framework – Employment Law Implications

The Government has announced major changes to the COVID-19 Protection Framework.  From 4 April 2022 the following will take effect:

Mandated vaccinations will no longer be required for education, police, defence, hospitality, and close contact businesses.

Mandated vaccinations will remain for health and disability, aged care, corrections and border/MIQ.

My Vaccine Pass will no longer be required as part of the Covid Protection Framework. While it may be used again in the future, any use from 4 April will be voluntary. 

A lot of businesses want to know how these changes impact them and the vaccination policies they have already introduced.  It is important to note that these changes do not make employers’ current workplace policies dealing with COVID-19 and vaccination redundant.  It just means that employers cannot rely on the Government vaccination mandates in order to justify or require an employee to be vaccinated or to terminate their employment if they choose not to be.  

Employers can also continue to have a policy not to employ unvaccinated individuals, subject to the laws around discrimination. With any vaccination policy that is independent of the Government mandates, a health and safety risk assessment which considers current public health advice and role specific circumstances in the workplace should be carried out.  Consulting over changes to existing policies or introducing new policies also needs to still occur.  If an employer is reviewing their policy they should notify and communicate with employees about when and how the review will take place.  

The decision to remove the Government mandates does not mean that employer decisions under these mandates were unlawful. Employees who had their employment terminated on reliance on the Government mandates also do not have a lawful right to be reinstated into their previous position or to be offered their job back. While employees are still entitled to raise a personal grievance if they feel they have been unjustifiably dismissed, any legal challenge is considered in the circumstances at the time the dismissal occurred. 

As always, proactive communication by both parties, in line with mutual obligations of good faith, will be key to working through any issues which may arise.   As the COVID-19 landscape continues to change, it is important for businesses to keep updated to ensure employment law obligations continue to be met.

The specialist employment law team at DTI Lawyers can assist you in relation to all employment matters, including obligations and rights that relate to COVID-19.   For any further information on employment law queries, please contact Jaime Lomas – jaime@dtilawyers.co.nz