A border protection officer's failed employment bid after refusing the Covid-19 vaccine could prompt nationwide "no jab, no job" policies, an employment advocate says.
The Employment Relations Authority this week said Customs NZ was justified in dismissing the unvaccinated worker.
The decision was a landmark, and now every Kiwi employer and employee might have to reassess their position on vaccinations, employment law expert Max Whitehead said.
"Customs, the employer, has been lucky enough to rely on the vaccination requirements for frontline workers," Whitehead said.
But he said in justifying the dismissal, the ERA actually relied on the fact the employee presented a risk to the health and safety of others.
"In our view, all other employers may come to a similar conclusion once they have completed their own thorough health and safety assessments."
He said workers should be aware that jobs could be at risk if they chose to stay unvaccinated.
And employers must now take responsibility for unvaccinated employees interacting with others, Whitehead said.
"In our view, this decision licenses employers to adopt a No Jab, No Job policy," the Whitehead Group managing director added.
He said the decision legally obligated Customs to protect the health and safety of all who interact with its business.
Whitehead said the ERA decision did not clarify what comprised a thorough health and safety assessment.
But he said if at least one person was found to be at risk in this assessment, then the employer would be sufficiently justified in considering dismissal as an option.
"The precedent set by this decision puts employers in a difficult situation," Whitehead said.
"We are seeing a significant shortage of skilled employees available in the market, and so employers cannot afford to lose any more staff."
But he said, on the other hand, employers could not afford to risk the health and safety of others and face what could potentially be enormous penalties.
The Customs worker argued the absence of a vaccination was not a genuine reason for getting fired and she wanted her job reinstated.
She claimed her role was wrongly classed as being a frontline position.
The ERA decision was released shortly before US President Joe Biden unleashed a missive at unvaccinated people and announced a push for more mandatory vaccinations.
Biden today said his country's labour agency was developing an emergency rule affecting all companies employing more than 100 people.
These employers would have to ensure all workers were fully vaccinated or returned negative Covid-19 tests at least once a week.
The President said many big employers including United Airlines, Disney "and even Fox News" already had similar rules.
Biden also moved to mandate shots for federal government workers and contractors.
He said unvaccinated people were overcrowding hospitals, over-running emergency rooms and causing heart attack and cancer victims to miss out on care.