Can nursing staff refuse to work if they feel unsafe or unprotected from COVID-19?
Nurses, midwives, health care workers and kai mahi hauora may have to care for individuals who meet the case definition for COVID-19. Careful planning can help reduce the impact of COVID-19 or a pandemic, but nurses, midwives, health care workers and kai mahi hauora must still remain mindful of both their rights and responsibilities.
Under the HSWA, employees have the right to refuse to perform work if they believe carrying out the work would expose them, or any other person, to a serious risk to health or safety due to immediate or imminent exposure to a hazard.
There are specific steps in this legislation that must be carried out before refusing to perform work. For example, employees must attempt to resolve the issue with the employer as soon as practicable and, should the matter remain unresolved, the employee must have reasonable grounds for believing a serious risk is attached to continuing such work.
Reasonable grounds for such belief will be established if a health and safety representative has advised the employee that carrying out the work would expose them, or another person, to serious risk.