One worker has now been sacked for defying a new hard-line policy forcing unvaccinated Waikato District Health Board staff to get flu jabs or wear masks.
A number of staff at the DHB have come forward with concerns since the Weekend Herald revealed that three workers had been suspended and restrictions were placed on a fourth over the newly introduced compulsory measure, which was designed to protect employees and patients from the flu.
Waikato DHB, which last month became the first DHB to bring in the policy, has defended the new rules, saying they have been met with "widespread acceptance" while lifting staff vaccination rates from 53 per cent last year to more than 75 per cent.
The Herald has learned one staff member's employment was terminated on Friday for refusing to obey the policy. It is understood the worker was not a clinician.
One person, who spoke on the condition on anonymity, said they had protested about the policy, calling it "bullying and intimidation".
"Many staff at the DHB are scared and as such have either had the flu jab when they usually wouldn't get one or have been threatened with dismissal if they didn't wear a mask."
Another employee said they had seen staff members crying and "consumed with rage and frustration" while going to be vaccinated.
"Many have openly stated they would not be getting the vaccination if they felt they had a choice, but they strongly feel that if they don't have it they won't be able to do their job."
The worker had seen unvaccinated staff being made to wear masks, even though they were sitting in a back office writing up notes, at least 20m from the nearest patient room. Signs had also been put up around Waikato Hospital stating workers wearing masks were not vaccinated, they said.
The employee believed the policy had had a "detrimental effect" on relationships between patient and caregiver.
The Herald understands that although there is nothing in contracts that can allow the DHB to order staff to wear masks, the DHB can request this for patient safety and health.
This is being challenged by unions - APEX, the Resident Doctors Association and the New Zealand Medical Laboratory Workers have served the DHB with claims, while a fourth is expected from the New Zealand Nurses Organisation.
Waikato DHB said it would write to unions inviting them to participate at the end of the influenza season in a review of the policy and its usefulness in comparison with vaccination rates achieved by other DHBs.
DHB chief executive Nigel Murray last night confirmed a worker was dismissed over refusing to adhere to the policy. "The DHB will not comment on individual cases but did follow the HR progressive performance processes."
Waikato DHB's new policy states:
"Health care workers who are unable to establish that they have received the current seasonal influenza vaccination will be required to wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) such as surgical or procedural face masks during the declared influenza season while undertaking clinical duties or being present in a clinical area."