Further Information and FAQs
Removal of Vaccine Mandates - Further Information and FAQs
Vaccine mandates were removed for the education sector at 11:59pm on 4 April 2022. Requirements around My Vaccine Pass and scanning COVID-19 QR codes were also removed.
Your School board will need to consider what work, if any, will continue to need to be undertaken by a vaccinated worker.
There may be some specific roles within a school where vaccination is needed in order to provide the greatest level of protection for those most vulnerable. An example of this may be where staff work in close contact with an immunocompromised child or young person. There may also be other work that, after careful consideration, requires vaccination.
It is unlikely that many schools will determine through this risk assessment process that all workers (paid and unpaid) will need to be vaccinated.
It is important that you work with your staff and their representatives when identifying health and safety risks and how these will be managed. Your community is likely to want to understand if vaccinations are required and, if so, why this is the case.
You can continue to ask workers about their vaccination status if you have a good reason to do so, for example they are undertaking work which your health and safety assessment has identified requires vaccination as one of the measures to control these risks. However, as vaccination status is personal information, employees will no longer be required to disclose this to you.
Further advice around assessing if specific work requires a vaccination is available from WorkSafe, with employment advice available from MBIE.
The Risk Assessment guidance we have provided can support you to consider other measures outside of mandating vaccinations, in addition to the requirements at each framework setting.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do we need to have updated our Health and Safety planning by 5 April?
You need to take time to get this right. While the new legislative framework will give schools and kura the ability to make their own decisions on vaccination requirements going forward, it is important that you carry out a robust assessment process and involve your employees and community.
The time required to carry out appropriate consultation may mean you need to effectively continue with your existing health and safety plan from 5 April, until decisions are made on the suitability of vaccination or other mitigation strategies in your school and kura. It is important not to pre-empt any outcomes.
There may be quite differing views amongst your staff and in your community about the importance of vaccinations, masks or other measures. We recommend you seek employment advice to support you with this process.
Why has the vaccine mandate been lifted?
The government’s decision is based upon the assessment that the mandates are no longer proportionate to the current risks with the other safety measures that are in place. This decision recognises that a large proportion of the workforce is now fully vaccinated and boosted. This provides an additional layer of protection to staff, students, children, and wider community. Other measures such as hand washing and hygiene measures and mask wearing will continue to provide layers of protection.
What if our early learning service, school or kura wants to continue requiring all staff members to be vaccinated as a health and safety policy?
The decision to remove vaccine mandates has been based upon the assessment that they are no longer proportionate to the current risks from Omicron with the other mitigations that are in place. This recognises that a large proportion of the workforce is now fully vaccinated and boosted, which provides an additional layer of protection to staff, students, children, and wider community, and that other mitigating hygiene measures will continue to provide layers of protection.
Given this context, including that your workforce is highly vaccinated, your school will need to consider what work, if any, will continue to need to be undertaken by a vaccinated worker.
It is unlikely that many schools will determine through a risk assessment process that all workers (paid and unpaid) will need to be vaccinated.
Further updated advice around assessing if specific work requires a vaccination is available from WorkSafe.
We recommend that you work with your staff and their representatives when identifying health and safety risks and how these will be managed. Your community is also likely to want to understand if vaccinations are required and, if so, why this is the case.
What do we need to consider in a health and safety assessment?
We recommend that early leaning services and School Boards work with their employees and learning community to review their current risk assessments and health and safety policies around COVID-19. Guidance to support this is available on the following pages.
Further updated advice around assessing if specific work requires a vaccination is available from WorkSafe.
Can we continue to ask people for their vaccination status?
In general no. Now that vaccine mandates have been removed you no longer have a specific legal requirement to ask for people’s vaccination status. Accordingly, requesting this would be the same as for any other private medical information.
However, you can continue to ask workers about their vaccination status if you have good reason to do so. For example, they are undertaking work which your health and safety assessment has identified requires vaccination as one of the measures to control these risks. You would need to have sufficient reason for requesting and holding the information and follow your normal processes for storing private information.
What do we do with the vaccination records we have kept about staff?
You should ensure the information you have collected and handled about an employee’s vaccination status is stored securely, in accordance with the Privacy Act.
Are we obligated to re-employ a previous staff member whose employment ended due to the Public Health Order mandate?
No. The removal of the mandate does not mean that unvaccinated staff members whose employment ended have a right to return to their former position, or to any other position. This includes employees who resigned because of their inability to comply with the mandate or whose employment was ended after a reasonable employment process. Your normal obligations to advertise vacancies and appoint on merit apply to all new appointments.
Employment agreements with replacement staff that School Boards have appointed while the vaccination requirements were in place are not changed by the removal of the mandates and remain valid.
School Boards should seek advice through NZSTA, Te Rūnanga Nui or their legal advisor if they have questions regarding specific situations involving past or current employment processes.
What happens if my school board is currently working through a termination process with a staff member who is unvaccinated?
Now that the mandatory vaccination requirements have been removed, any employment processes which are underway because an employee is not vaccinated should cease and the employee should be confirmed into their position. This is because the reason for undertaking that process is no longer in effect.
What are our obligations to employees still in a notice period?
Now that the mandatory vaccination requirements have been removed, if you have not already filled the employee’s role you should have cancelled the notice of termination of employment, as the reason for their employment to end will no longer be in effect.
If the role has been filled, seek advice from NZSTA, Te Rūnanga Nui or your employment advisor.
What if we have agreed to a term of absence for an unvaccinated staff member?
Any employment agreements the School Board has entered into with staff to cover the leave of absence still apply. If these are tied to a specific date, then that date still applies, unless the parties agree to a new date.
What happens if a vaccinated staff member does not want to come into work as there may be others on site who are not vaccinated?
At every level of the COVID-19 Protection Framework, students and staff can continue to attend schools and kura as there are a range of health and safety measures in place to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Their own vaccination status is a significant mitigation of risk from severe outcomes.
Because of these safety measures, including very high vaccination rates across most communities, school settings continue to be considered low risk for onward transmission.
School boards should take a health and safety risk-based approach to understand and investigate the concerns of their employees in good faith. The board will need to determine an appropriate response in line with employer and employee duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, and advice from the Ministry of Health. The board, or principal under delegation, should engage your school’s health and safety committee and/or union delegates about the measures that are in place to sustain a healthy and safe workplace.
You can request a medical certificate from an employee who is at higher risk. This will also help you plan for a safe return to the workplace for your staff member. Staff should work with their GP or specialist if they need help understanding their own level of risk and how best to stay healthy.
If after considering public health guidelines and health and safety advice, the board does not agree the employee should stay away from the school site, they should work with them to try to identify why they consider the work is unsafe, and rectify the matter, so far as is reasonably practicable.
While your employee’s health and safety concerns are being resolved, you may require them to carry out suitable alternative work either onsite or working from home. You may also agree on a leave arrangement such as annual leave (for non-teaching staff) or unpaid discretionary leave. Unless the employee is ill, sick leave will not apply.
What happens if a staff member is on extended sick leave when the Public Health Order mandatory vaccination requirements are removed?
The School board needs to manage staff members’ individual circumstances in line with their usual leave policies and the relevant collective agreement provisions. The School Board should consult with the staff member now that the requirements to be vaccinated in order to work on site have changed.
Do we have to reimburse lost wages due to termination of employment because of the mandatory vaccination requirements?
No. The removal of the mandatory vaccination requirements does not introduce a new right for compensation.
What can we do to rebuild positive staff relations where necessary?
It is important that you work with your staff and their representatives when considering the health and safety measures that are required to mitigate COVID-19 risks and communicate with parents and caregivers to provide confidence in the systems you have in place.
If the return to work of an unvaccinated employee is likely to cause tensions with other staff, the School Board may consider the use of professional counsellors or restorative practice mediators to work through the issues.
EAP Services are available to help with any work or life issues and to improve health and general wellbeing. EAP counselling is completely confidential and funded by the Ministry of Education until June 2022. All teaching and non-teaching staff across Early Learning Services (including Kōhanga Reo, Kindergartens, Play Centres and home-based services), kura and state and state-integrated schools are eligible to access this support. To request an in-person, phone, video or e-counselling appointment:
Freephone (NZ Only): 0800 327 669
or visit EAP for further information