COVID-19 vaccination and testing FAQs for veterinary businesses

8 November 2021

We’ve prepared some guidance on common issues that veterinary businesses are facing around COVID-19 vaccinations and testing. This is general guidance intended to provide a starting point for businesses. How the law applies to your business will always be situation specific and the law is changing quickly as the Government responds to the COVID-19 situation. You will need to consider your own situation and we recommend considering getting legal, health and safety and/or HR advice.

On this page:
Can we ask clients if they’re vaccinated?
Do I have to tell clients if I and\or my staff are vaccinated?
Can we refuse to see unvaccinated clients?
What can we do if an employee refuses to see unvaccinated clients?
Can we require employees to be vaccinated?
Can we introduce a COVID-19 testing programme for staff?

Can we ask clients if they’re vaccinated?

If you have a lawful reason for asking, yes. As an employer, you have a duty to protect the health and safety of your employees and it would be reasonable and lawful to ask visitors about their vaccination status to help meet this duty.

Some clients may refuse to tell you whether they are vaccinated and, as long as you tell them you are doing so, you may then presume that they are unvaccinated and act accordingly.

If you ask clients about their vaccination status, you are collecting their personal information and the Information Privacy Principles apply, meaning:

  • Clients should be told the purpose of the collection (e.g. to protect the health and safety of staff and visitors by minimising the risk of spreading COVID-19), the consequences of not providing the information and that they have a right to access and correct it.
  • The information should be stored safely and securely and in a way that ensures people who don’t need to see it (e.g. other visitors) can’t.
  • The information should not be kept for longer than necessary (in the current circumstances, we believe that a note on a client’s file, retained until it is no longer necessary to check vaccination status, would be reasonable).
  • The information should not be used for other purposes and should not be disclosed to others.

Thought would also need to be given as to how vaccination status is checked and verified. We expect that the Governments My Covid Record system will be available for public use in the coming weeks and will include a verification app that businesses can use. This has a number of advantages including that it is likely to keep unnecessary information collection to a minimum.

Do I have to tell clients if I and/or my staff are vaccinated?

There is no legal requirement to do so and you should not share your employees’ vaccination status without their consent.

However, we encourage all veterinary staff to get vaccinated and, as far as possible, to be open with clients about their status so that clients can make informed decisions about their own health and safety.

Can we refuse to see unvaccinated clients?

Yes. The Code of Professional Conduct is clear that veterinarians are not obliged to accept new clients or to continue to provide services to existing clients so long as professional standards and animal welfare requirements are met.

We consider that veterinary businesses could legitimately decide that their staff will not have contact with unvaccinated clients in order to protect the health and safety of staff members. This decision could be made independently of a decision about staff vaccinations.

For non-emergency cases, practices may choose to offer contactless services to unvaccinated clients or they may choose not to provide services to unvaccinated clients altogether. We expect that practices will have contingency plans in place to deal with emergency situations where the clients are unvaccinated or do not disclose their status (e.g. contactless drop off, etc).

In extreme circumstances a veterinarian on duty may decide that attending a particular emergency would place their personal safety or health at risk and that they therefore cannot attend. In the current situation that might be a veterinarian in a higher risk area (e.g. Level 3 or red traffic light) dealing with a client who is unvaccinated and refuses a contactless drop-off arrangement. In those circumstances, the veterinarian has made their services available to attend the emergency and the client has effectively refused. In any situation like this, we would expect to see evidence that reasonable contingencies have been considered and practices should consider planning for these situations in advance.

What can we do if an employee refuses to see unvaccinated clients?

An employee can legally refuse to carry out unsafe work (s83 Health and Safety at Work Act). If the employee decides that seeing unvaccinated clients would expose them (or others) to a serious risk to health, they must try to resolve this with the employer as soon as possible (COVID-19 exposure probably counts as a serious risk here). If the matter remains unresolved, the employee can continue to refuse to carry out the work.

To avoid a standoff, businesses should consider carrying out risk assessments in advance and in consultation with staff. The employee’s belief in the serious risk must be reasonable and the more protective steps the employer takes, the less reasonable it would be to decide that there is a serious risk. Other factors that would affect this are the level of COVID-19 risk present in the local community and the employee’s vaccination status. If it is not reasonable to conclude that there is a serious risk, the employer could direct the employee to carry out the work.

Can we require employees to be vaccinated?

See our previous advice on this here. In brief, yes, if you follow an appropriate process and decide that this is a necessary step to manage health and safety risks.

The Government has signaled that it intends to pass new laws to set out (and possibly simplify) the steps that employers must take before requiring employees to be vaccinated. We will provide more information on this when it’s available.

Can we introduce a COVID-19 testing programme for staff?

At the time of writing, COVID-19 testing isn’t widely available for business use (to our knowledge). That appears likely to change in the near future.

The legality of employers requiring employees to be tested for COVID-19 hasn’t been tested in New Zealand yet but it is very likely that it will be as tests become available and more widely adopted. Some businesses are already doing this.

At this stage, we believe that testing programmes are likely to be legal depending on the risk level in a particular workplace. Any proposed programme would need to be discussed with employees as part of a good faith process (in much the same way as has been outlined for vaccination requirements). Any veterinary clinic considering using testing should be clear about the efficacy of the proposed testing and how it would help keep people safe.