With the remaining vaccination mandates being removed at 11.59pm Monday 26 September, and as the response to COVID-19 has changed in New Zealand, now is a good time to take stock, review what settings and policies your organisation implemented during the pandemic and decide whether you can justify keeping them in place.
Can I keep COVID-19 policies in place?
In order to keep any policy related to managing the risk of Covid in place, a business must identify that the current risk of contracting and/or transmitting COVID-19 at their workplace is higher than it is out in the community (healthcare settings, supermarket, schools etc). Examples of COVID-19 policies could include, but are not limited to, workplace RAT testing, vaccination mandates, mask wearing instore etc.
How do I assess our current risk level?
You need to complete a new risk assessment for your organisation, which must be completed in consultation with all staff.
Current public health advice must be considered as part of the risk assessment, and all of these factors need to be considered separately for each role within your organisation:
- Is there a greater risk of the worker being exposed to new variants at work than they would be in the community?
- Does the worker regularly interact with people who are less likely to be vaccinated against COVID-19?
- Does the worker work in a confined indoor space (of less than 100m2) and involve close and sustained interactions with others (i.e., closer than 1m distance, for periods of more than 15 continuous minutes)?
What can I do to mitigate any identified risk?
In deciding what controls to implement, employers will need to consider what is reasonably practicable. Employers should first consider the controls that are the least intrusive to employees. Other controls could include:
- Providing appropriate sanitary items such as tissues, no-touch rubbish bins, hand soap and hand sanitiser
- Creating a regular cleaning and sanitisation plan for their store of frequent touch points (door handles, Eftpos machines, phones) and common areas
- Encouraging staff to get Covid / flu vaccines, consider providing funding or time off to enable them to get them
- Hanging signage in common areas reminding people about good hygiene practices
- Encouraging social distancing in your store and reviewing store layout to ensure social distancing is possible
- Ensuring people stay home if unwell
- Reviewing and improving ventilation systems in store
Can I ask potential new employees whether they are vaccinated when recruiting?
Employers must have a legitimate need to know a potential employee’s vaccination status in order to ask them for that information. The role you are looking to fill must have been identified as high risk of catching and transmitting Covid (as above, higher than the risk the worker would face out in the community), or where the information is material to an organisation’s health and safety plan.
Can I still require employees to do RATs?
Mandating regular Covid testing would be considered a change or addition to an employee’s original terms and conditions of employment. In order to require this, you would need to be confident that your current risk profile still requires it, and that you aren’t able to implement other (less invasive) controls to manage the identified risk. You need to consult with impacted staff, and thoroughly consider their feedback prior to implementing this requirement.
Can I still require mask wearing?
Even though mask mandates have been removed (aside from in healthcare settings including doctors’ clinics, pharmacies — but not those inside supermarkets, hospitals, dentists, residential care facilities) some places such as workplaces, stores or special events may ask people to wear a mask as a condition of entry. In order to require this, you need to be confident that your current risk profile still requires it, and that you aren’t able to implement other controls to manage the identified risk.
If you are considering requiring mask wearing for your employees, you need to first consult with the impacted staff, and thoroughly consider their feedback, in addition to your risk assessment prior to implementing the requirement.
What should I do if a customer or staff member wants to wear a mask?
There are a number of reasons why people are still choosing to wear masks in the community, and we encourage everyone to be supportive and understanding of this, as it may be that they have been recently unwell or have an immune comprised family member at home that they are trying to keep well.
Can I keep my employee’s vaccination records on file?
Principle 9 of the Privacy Act 2020 states organisations should not keep personal information any longer than required.
Information collected for the purpose of determining whether a person is vaccinated is protected by section 34B of the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020 and can only be used for the purposes of the COVID-19 response. In particular, the employer can only hold, store, use or disclose the information for the purpose of:
- Ascertaining that the individual is vaccinated;
- Demonstrating or ascertaining compliance with the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020 or a COVID-19 Order;
- Enforcing the Act or Order; or
- The Health Act.
We advise regularly reviewing what personal information your organisation is holding on file and checking whether you still need to collect and keep it, and if not, securely destroying it.
For example if you implemented a vaccine mandate, and have now undertaken a risk assessment and deem this is no longer required – you must no longer keep vaccination records on file, appropriately delete or destroy them, and inform your team that you have deleted these records.
This will include information you have collected from visitors for contact tracing.
Please contact our Advice Service should you require any more specific advice on the above information. You can ring us on 0800 472 472 (1800 128 086 from Australia) or send us an email to [email protected].