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Politics and Religion, Sexually transmitted diseases and Covid Vaccination Status – The difficult conversations in the workplace

Disagreement around the first two topics have literally led to wars on a global scale, while at a local level they have been known to cause divides between families and friends and divisions within communities. This is due to deeply held views and beliefs, polarised positions, and the passionate defence of those views that they are topics which cause an emotional response and the potential for conflict and difficult conversations.

While a New Zealand Real Estate Agent was recently quoted in the media that he was offended about being asked about his vaccination status and likened it to him asking the question of someone,  “have you got syphilis” – that in his view this is personal health information.

Covid vaccination status is shaping up as an equally contentious topic that can lead to difficult conversations in the workplace.

So as an employer why would you want know what an employee’s vaccination status is?

  • Your industry is covered by a Government mandate – therefore, it is a legal requirement you need to manage.
  • You have done, or are in the process of completing a healthy and safety risk assessment and are seeking to understand the risk profile based on your employee’s COVID vaccination status.
  • Your clients are seeking confirmation of the vaccination status of your employees before they will allow them to visit their sites, or that employees from your business can carry out work.
  • You wish to engage with employees as part of a consultation process to introduce a vaccination policy.

As an Employer, as long as you have a lawful purpose, you can ask the question of your employees regarding their vaccination status.

Where the difficult part of this conversation for you as the employer might arise, is if an employee chooses not to answer or advises you that they have no intention of getting vaccinated. This is equally their right not to answer or to disclose, or to get vaccinated if they do not wish to do so.

So how do you deal with these difficult conversations if those answers have an impact on your business?

  1. Ask yourself – Do you have a lawful reason to have the conversation?
  2. Are you acting in good faith as an employer?
  3. If your answer is yes to the first two questions, plan your conversation – What is it you want to say and why? Then how and where and when are you going to have that conversation?
  4. It is important to remember that this conversation is about engaging with an employee regarding an employment relationship – not about imposing your personal views on the topic of vaccination.
  5. If an employee declines to answer or does not wish to engage with you, you would then need to work on the premise that they are unvaccinated and communicate what that means to you and how you would manage your business on that basis.
  6. Explain what the potential flow-on effect is for the business with unvaccinated employees (if any).
  7. Explain the impact on particular roles if employees are unvaccinated (if any).
  8. Importantly, respect an employee’s right to hold a position that may differ from your own and avoid engaging in debate or discussion about the pros and cons, as this is largely irrelevant to you as the employer. What is relevant is the impact, if any, on roles within your business.
  9. The conversation is then about communicating with the employee(s) to let them know what are the possible outcomes – for example, this may mean that an individual is unable to carry out their current role if unvaccinated, based on client or Government requirements. However, there is an opportunity for redeployment to another role. Alternatively, there are no opportunities for redeployment and what does that potentially mean for the employee?

To address these difficult conversations you should be:

  • Engaging in two way communication with your employees, addressing the reason for any enquiries regarding vaccination status.
  • Ensuring that you are dealing with the issue, which is the interface between COVID-19 vaccination status of employees and the operation of your business.
  • Acknowledge individual rights as they relate to disclosing information or choices they make relating to COVID vaccination status.
  • Approach in a professional, not personal manner – Remove emotions from your communication and delivery.
  • Vaccination, like pregnancy, is binary – you either are vaccinated or you are not. Likewise, the reasons for either state are specific and personal to each individual and it is not necessary for you to know or understand the reasoning to take your next steps.
  • If there is a potential impact on a person’s employment, you need to ensure you engage and consult with them so they are fully informed of all the relevant information and the potential outcomes. This is you operating in good faith as an employer and in a no surprises employment relationship.

If you need any support with your individual business or situation please do not hesitate to contact any one of the team at Three60 Consult to help you navigate the difficult conversations you may be having difficulty with or wish to avoid.


This article, and any information contained on our website is necessarily brief and general in nature, and should not be substituted for professional advice. You should always seek professional advice before taking any action in relation to the matters addressed.

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