As New Zealand continues its COVID-19 vaccine efforts and the ‘Shot Bro’ van makes its way around the country, employers face increased anxiety around having ‘the talk’ with their staff about vaccines.

Recently, a border worker was dismissed after refusing the vaccine, a move ruled justifiable by the Employment Relations Authority (the Authority). The Authority ruled that this was because the employer had ‘acted in good faith’.

While this ruling doesn’t mean a blanket ruling for all, it does at least set a standard for how employers should start to approach these situations.

Having a process
Whenever an organisation needs to adapt to change, having a clear and set process in which that change will be implemented creates a path to success.

Instead of going straight in with a definitive ‘yes you need to get the vaccine to work here’, employers should begin with strong encouragement for employees to get vaccinated. This could be in the form of educational sessions, providing staff with information around vaccines issued by the New Zealand government, or possible options for employees who refuse the vaccine.

Included in this process should be flexibility for those who do get vaccinated. This means allowing for time off to get the jab or time-off for recovery if the staff member is experiencing some side effects from the vaccine (as has become common with the second dose).

Be available for conversations
Once you start taking this approach, encouraging employees to get vaccinated, the likely scenario is that you will be asked questions.

Making yourself available for these kinds of conversations gives your staff the opportunity to feel heard, for their worries to be recognised and validated, and gives you a chance to understand how people are feeling individually.

If you find there is some hesitancy among your staff around approaching you with questions (possibly due to fear of retaliation), then approach them yourself and seek feedback. It’s important for your employees to see you make active efforts to get them to engage in this situation, as this is a conversation primarily around them and their choices.

Be mindful
Across the U.S., we’ve seen extreme pushback against vaccine mandates. While Kiwis typically have a much calmer attitude than Americans, employers here should still be mindful that there will likely be employees who have strong opinions around the vaccine.

When going through your processes and having these conversations, tensions may arise between employees with opposing views. Not only should you as an employer prepare for this, but you should also prepare other staff. Creating a culture that allows all employees to feel safe is important, especially now. Have conversations with your employees about being mindful towards each other.

The workplace and COVID-19 vaccines is still very much a space filled with uncertainty. As an employer, your best approach is encouragement and honest conversations.
With that in mind, engaging with an HR expert who has experience in dealing with delicate matters will be a vital tool in this process. Hello Monday can help you develop your processes and guide you on how to carry out these conversations.