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Managing Vaccine Misinformation In The Workplace

As employers across the country raise their hands to support New Zealand’s vaccine rollout, they may also be called upon to help combat a new epidemic - the spread of vaccine misinformation in the workplace.

Called the ‘infodemic’ by the World Health Organisation, the rapid rise and spread of vaccine misinformation has been attributed to high rates of vaccine hesitancy across developed nations. With more employees returning to workplaces this week and vaccines likely to continue as a polarising issue as we edge closer to dosage targets, it begs the obvious question: what should an employer do if an employee is wilfully spreading vaccine misinformation in the workplace?

Vaccine-related calls to Employsure’s advice line for business owners are already 84% higher two-thirds of the way through September than the past three months combined and are expected to rise further.

If a potential problem arises as a result of an employee spreading misinformation, employers are advised to treat the issue the same as any other workplace grievance to help minimise risk and improve the culture of the business.

“Vaccinations are becoming a controversial topic in the workplace which may lead to conflict between business owners and their employees,” said Employsure employment relations specialist Maddie McKenzie.

“If an employer does become aware of vaccine misinformation in the workplace, or if the topic of vaccinations is seen to be causing conflict, it is recommended for the employer to hold a meeting with relevant employees. As an employer, you should take the time to be patient and respectful to an employee spreading misinformation. Sit down with them and genuinely hear what they have to say.

“This gives the employer the opportunity to investigate the concerns and opinions of employees, and then base any further action off the back of that meeting. The employer can use this opportunity to provide the employee with relevant government health advice, offer them the chance to speak with a licensed medical professional to learn more about the vaccine, or let them speak to other employees who are already vaccinated.

“Establishing trust with employees, providing credible sources, or even offer paid time off to get the vaccine can help improve the culture of the workplace and stop the spread of misinformation.”

One of the most important aspects to running a business is the health and safety of staff. As more businesses reopen, it's imperative they take safety measures seriously, incorporate an effective infection control policy which addresses vaccinations and subsequent immunisation programs, and are aware of the relevant key work, health and safety practices.

If an employee continues to spread misinformation, the action that may be taken is dependent on what has been said in the workplace and the subsequent meeting, the severity of what has been said, and the potential impact it could have on other employees.

If an employee is found to have purposely spread misinformation through the workplace despite a policy or direction not to do so, the business may consider disciplinary action for failure to comply with a reasonable management direction. A subsequent outcome will depend on the severity of the allegations and the employee’s responses.

Business owners should also keep track of which employees have been vaccinated by using software like BrightHR, which can help employers monitor who is fully, partially, or not vaccinated against COVID-19 in the workplace. This can help them to limit face-to-face interaction with higher risk employees where appropriate and stop a potential spread of infection in the workplace.

“Managing vaccine misinformation in the correct way can help improve the culture of a workplace and avoid further conflicts down the line,” continued Ms McKenzie.

“Employers have an obligation to take reasonably practicable steps to ensure a safe workplace, both physically and mentally, and providing correct information about vaccinations, particularly as we work toward our vaccine targets for reopening, is a critical component of this.”

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