COVID-19 vaccine mandates: Who it applies to, jab deadlines and new tool for non-mandated businesses to enforce

COVID-19 vaccine mandates have been applied to about 40 percent of the workforce and time is running out for the mandated to get their first dose of Pfizer. 

But for businesses that aren't covered by the mandate, the Government is launching a new assessment tool for bosses who want to impose it on their employees. 

Here's what you need to know. 

Which workers must be vaccinated?

The Government has applied vaccine mandates to border workers, healthcare workers, education staff, and all employees in hospitality, events, gatherings, close contact businesses and gyms. 

Tertiary education, that takes place on-site, is also included at the 'red' level, once the new COVID Protection Framework, or 'traffic light' system, comes into effect on December 3. It's been confirmed Auckland will begin at 'red'. 

Businesses not covered by the mandate, but that want to require their staff to be vaccinated, can use a yet-to-be-launched vaccination assessment tool. 

The tool is likely to include the following four factors, though further testing and refinement will happen over the next few weeks. 

COVID-19 vaccine mandates: Who it applies to, jab deadlines and new tool for non-mandated businesses to enforce
Photo credit: Supplied

At least three of the higher-risk indicators will need to be met before it would be reasonable for a boss to impose a mandate on their staff.

WorkSafe has provided guidance on how these decisions can be made.

When must they be vaccinated?

The vaccine mandate for healthcare workers kicks in on December 1. They had to have their first dose by October 30. As of November 17, 1309 out of 80,000 District Health Board staff had been stood. 

The mandate for education staff comes into effect on January 1. They had to have their first dose by November 15. It's unclear how many education staff have been stood down. It's understood the Ministry of Education is helping some schools work through issues. 

As for employees in hospitality, events, gatherings, close contact businesses and gyms, they need to have their first dose by the time the new 'traffic light' system comes into effect, which is next Friday, December 3. 

These workers will need to be fully vaccinated by January 17, 2022, to continue doing that work. It's unclear what will happen to them if they don't. 

Non-vaccinated employees doing work that requires vaccination - either by government mandates or an employer requirement - will be given a new four-week paid notice period if their employment agreements are terminated. 

This change is part of amendments being made this week to the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020.

It's important for workers to remember their boss will be required by law to provide paid time off for employees to get vaccinated.

Can you just get a test instead?

Health Minister Andrew Little has ruled out this option. 

"Testing has been used in some circumstances but in the end, what we decided was that to make it easy and fair to everybody in the workforce, if you want to do this work where you're dealing with vulnerable people, you need to be vaccinated - and that's about fairness to everybody," he said last week. 

"There are circumstances in which you can be asymptomatic and may not be picked up by a test and you are infecting other people, and this makes sure that the same rule applies to everybody - that's just basic fairness."

Workplace Relations Minister Michael Wood says vaccine requirements in the workplace are a common tool many countries around the world are using to stop the spread of COVID and to protect their workers and customers from the virus.

"It's common sense to ensure staff in workplaces that are either required to or can use the My Vaccine Pass are vaccinated. This is regardless of whether the business chooses to require My Vaccine Passes from customers or attendees," he said on Tuesday. 

"It gives confidence to the customers who are vaccinated and means the business will be less likely to be affected by cases."

The latest Ministry of Health data shows 12 District Health Boards (DHBs) have reached the 90 percent first dose vaccination milestone. 

The data shows 83 percent of eligible Kiwis are fully vaccinated, but 195,786 people or 4.6 percent of the eligible population are more than three weeks since their first shot. If all those who are overdue for their second shot got it now, New Zealand would be 88 percent fully vaccinated.