COVID vaccination mandates in New Zealand – Who’s liable?

Eve Lawrence GM of Touring Brands - Haka Tourism Group "They [government] are saying you can be justified in requiring that staff are vaccinated, but it may be harder to argue and you could be fined – it’s all really vague.”

Auckland based Eve Lawrence is General Manager of Touring Brands at the Haka Group and has over 15 years’ experience in the events business. Before her three-year stint at Aljazeera where she helped set up the launch of their English speaking news channel, she spent almost 5 years in the British Royal Navy as a communications technician. In short Eve Lawrence is a highly experienced events and communications professional, able to deftly navigate the challenges of Polite Plain Talking.

Business advice on vaccine mandate liability is available if you’re prepared to pay for it, but there’s no government direction in either New Zealand or Australia, which is not fair for the employer or the employee “Exactly. Says Lawrence. “And to my mind, isn’t that what governments are there for? Aren’t they there to legislate and put regulatory efforts in place in order to help? That’s their purpose, surely?”

“At the moment, there’s a health order in New Zealand to mandate it for specific industries such as ports and airports. But for everyone else it’s really vague – even for hospitals. They [government] are saying you can be justified in requiring that staff are vaccinated, but it may be harder to argue and you could be fined – it’s all really vague.” Says Lawrence

Rather than waiting for government guidance or regulations, Lawrence is getting on with formulating a COVID vaccination policy for the business. “I’m doing a Health & Safety assessment for my tour guides. To my mind, if they don’t get vaccinated and they pick up COVID – they’re visiting all these cities and regional destinations and the risk of spread is so high.” She argues that it’s reasonable to mandate vaccine for the guides. “In that situation I’m reasonably confident if a tour guide took us to court [for unfair dismissal in the event of refusing vaccination], but for an office employee for example, you can ask if someone has had the vaccine, but they aren’t obligated to tell you. So, where does that leave us because there’s no point in mandating vaccines and one person opting out. It’s difficult for current staff but you can mandate it for future hire.”

Like many other executives and owners of small and medium sized businesses, Eve Lawrence also has an eye on the large operators, with the resources and revenue opportunity to fight their legal battles, to help formulate future vaccine policy for her business. “it’s a tricky one to navigate. Who’s liable?” she says. “You force [mandate for] someone to have a vaccine and they have really bad reaction or god forbid, die. And their family turns around and says ‘you’re responsible’?’’

Lawrence believes that following the proper procedures should offer some protection for events businesses. “If you go through the proper risk and health authorities you can get advice that you are doing the right thing from them. So, I do think – hope – you’re covered if you go through the proper process.”

Eve Lawrence has got buy-in from her employees to form a proportionate policy. “I know 38% of my office staff are fully vaccinated, 54% have had their first dose and are waiting for their second, and 8% waiting for their first appointment. So, for me it’s not much of a concern because they all want to get it. But if I had a couple of members of staff who didn’t want it, it would be incredibly tricky and I’ve got a couple of friends with businesses in that situation.”

But what happens if one of her team has a nasty reaction and becomes permanently incapacitated or even dies, as a result of the vaccine? “That is the worry for me.” Says Lawrence. “And what about people who want the vaccine but can’t.”

Eve Lawrence thinks that leadership on vaccination mandates has been lacking “Government is just passing the parcel and I believe they should be legislating to make it viable to for us to build policy, that’s not going to bite us in the arse.” She concludes.