Banning unvaccinated people from Parliament grounds could set precedent - expert

By Katie Scotcher for RNZ

An employment law expert believes if Parliament's Speaker does ban unvaccinated people from the precinct, it could set a precedent for other workplaces.

The revelation the tough rules are being considered by Parliament's top brass came as a surprise to many.

In an interview with media outlet Newsroom, Trevor Mallard revealed staff, the public and the media may not be allowed on the Parliamentary precinct if they were unvaccinated.

A record of who has and has not had a shot may also be kept.

The Speaker was still consulting the Clerk of the House and the Parliamentary Service chief executive and seeking legal advice - nothing had been decided yet.

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said he would not expect that sort of information to be shared through the media first.

"Certainly the way it came forward was probably not quite what I'd expect but no doubt we'll hear more formally from the Speaker about what his intentions are," Robertson said.

ACT Leader David Seymour said it would have been "helpful" if Mallard had communicated his thinking with staff before the media.

"Inevitably there's going to be, in every work place, a contest over whether people can be in that workplace vaccinated or not."

Mallard did not want to be interviewed, but in a statement acknowledged his interview with Newsroom may have caused anxiety, which he said was not his intention.

"There are two different situations at play - the first one is from an employment perspective which is the responsibility of your employer, the second is the rules of access to the parliamentary precinct which is my responsibility.

"The priority as always remains ensuring the safety and wellbeing of all those at Parliament."

As more people get vaccinated, workplaces are beginning to grapple with the sensitive and complicated issue of how to handle people who refuse to get the jab.

But employment law expert Max Whitehead said Mallard's final decision could set a precedent.

"If we've seen Parliament take this lead then it is a signal to employers to go out there and have a 'no jab, no entry' policy," Whitehead said.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said officials were preparing "no jab, no job" advice for businesses.

"Various different government agencies are looking at providing good, reliable, fact-based information for people who are in the position of having to make those sorts of decisions," Hipkins said.

The Public Service Commission had already issued guidance for the public sector, but it was ultimately up to the agency's chief executive to decide how to apply it in practice.

RNZ asked all public sector agencies what their vaccine plans were.

Most expected their employees to be vaccinated, but said it was up to the individual. They also said they would carry out a risk assessment and redeploy if needed.

The Department of Conservation asked all staff to share their vaccination status and was making it mandatory for new hut wardens, campground and visitor centre staff to have had a shot.

Other agencies with staff at the border who are legally required to be vaccinated, like Customs, MPI and MBIE, keep track of who has been vaccinated and has redeployed those who refused.

Employment lawyer Daniel Erickson told Morning Report guidance for businesses from the government would be welcome.

"You can't have a blanket rule across the board that says all of our employees must be vaccinated. What you can do is look at the specific roles within your business and make an assessment as to whether or not the employees performing those roles should be vaccinated."

Erikson says this requires undertaking a risk assessment.

There also needs to be some level of consultation with those employees, he said.