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Policies, Procedures & SafeguardsMarch 16, 2020
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New Zealand has a four-level alert system to manage the spread of COVID-19.
From 11.59pm on 25 March 2020 the country was in Level 4. From 11.59pm on 27 April 2020 the country is in Level 3 until 13 May 2020. New Zealand moved to Alert Level 2 at 11.59pm on Wednesday 13 May 2020. Cabinet is meeting to decide whether to move to Alert Level 1 on Monday, 8 June 2020.
Under Alert Level 2, most businesses will be able to open, provided they can do so safely and follow industry restrictions. Schools and early childhood centres opened for all attendees from Monday, 18 May 2020. Bars were able to reopen from Thursday, 21 May 2020 provided they met industry restrictions.
Further details about the restrictions in each alert level can be found here.
Firstly, be aware of what each alert level will mean for your business. There are guidelines for businesses found here.
If you are operating, adjustments will include measures such as policies for safe work, limited interactions, disinfecting surfaces and maintaining high hygiene standards. You may need to put in place visitor logs and policies regarding customer interactions.
Depending on the alert level, you may be allowed to open if you can do so safely or you may have to operate a delivery or contactless-pick up service depending on your industry. This may mean changes to your employee’s duties or hours. To make these changes, consult with employees and record any agreed changes in writing.
If you are unable to retain your staff, you may need to commence a redundancy process in order to safely end their employment.
The Government has provided a list of essential businesses here.
This list is likely to be amended and clarified. The list also includes:
If your business is not considered essential, whether you are able to operate will depend on what alert level is in place. If your business is not allowed to open but you can continue remotely, for example through staff working from home while isolating, look to implement this.
New Zealand has a four-level alert system to manage the spread of COVID-19. Depending on which level your region is in, there may be restrictions or additional obligations on your business and its ability to operate. If you must shut down your business or parts of your business, there are a number of options available to you:
This will need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis in accordance with the restrictions of each alert level. During Alert Level 2, most processes or meetings will be able to continue, however consider whether video-conferencing instead of in person meetings would reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. The individual circumstances may mean that processes may need to be placed on hold. In either event, the employee should be kept up to date.
Employers should consider the employee’s access to advice (such as legal representatives and support people), as well as the effects of the current situation on the employee’s performance or ability to provide feedback.
Depending on the alert level, schools may be wholly or partially closed which may affect your employees. The first stage is to gather information about who may be affected by school closures or childcare responsibilities. Ascertain the nature of any responsibilities and whether the employee has a plan if schools close.
Whether an employee can care for children and work from home will need to be carefully assessed in consultation with the employee. Speak with employees who may be affected and ascertain whether they have alternative childcare arrangements.
Should an employee not be able to work due to childcare responsibilities, you can agree to them taking annual leave or leave without pay.
From March 2020, in one way or another, there has been a scheme available to businesses to pay their employees who cannot attend work due to COVID-19. This scheme has been changed several times and from 6 April 2020 until 1 May 2020 it was only available to essential businesses. The Leave Support Scheme now applies to all businesses who are eligible (apart from state sector organisations).
Affected employees include those who have tested positive to COVID-19 who are unable to work from home and need to self-isolate, those at higher risk of contracting the virus, those who have come into contact with someone who has tested positive, and those who have household members at higher risk.
The employer must also not be able to financially support their employee due to public health restrictions, e.g. the cost of paying for an employees’ leave, and paying for replacement staff is significant.
The initiative allows employers to pay these workers at the same flat rate as the Wage Subsidy Scheme of $585.80 for those working 20 or more hours a week (full-time rate), and $350 for those working less than 20 hours (part-time rate).
The money will be paid as a lump sum and payments will be made every four weeks per employee. Businesses can re-apply for an employee again in the fourth week, and can make further applications for additional workers who are eligible.
To find out more about the Leave Support Scheme, visit this site.
Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) has the primary duty of care to ensure that the health and safety of workers and others are not put at risk.
A PCBU must also consult, coordinate and cooperate with workers, other PCBUs and other duty holders. Where appropriate, a PCBU must also notify WorkSafe before undertaking particularly hazardous work or after a notifiable event.
There are increased health and safety obligations depending on whether you are operating and what industry you are operating within.
An employer also must meet their employment obligations, which includes complying with agreements, policies and employment standards as well as acting in good faith and enabling honest and open communication with employees.
Make sure you have up to date contact details for all workers.
This Hub contains more information about what your obligations may be.
In the unfortunate case that an employee is infected by the Coronavirus, it is recommended for employers to follow normal sick leave and long-term illness policies and procedures. Contact the Ministry of Health for further guidance. Assess whether there is a risk that the virus has been spread at work and take necessary health and safety steps.
Employers should be cautious of taking any detrimental action (e.g. termination or discipline) against an ill or injured employee without seeking workplace relations advice.
It is also recommended that employers keep in regular contact with the employee to both ascertain that an employee is free of the virus, and that they are safe to return.
All of your employees are entitled to sick leave if they have six months of current and continuous employment with you, or if they have worked for you for six months with an average of 10 hours per week and at least one hour in every week or 40 hours in every month.
An employee who has extra sick leave benefits in their employment agreement might be required to submit a certain kind of medical report. Depending on the agreement, they might also be liable for the cost of getting proof.
The employee may be eligible for the Government’s COVID-19 Leave Support Scheme.
If an employee has used all of their sick leave entitlements and still needs extra time to recover from an illness or injury, they have a few options:
Yes. An employer can ask for proof of illness or injury when an employee takes sick leave. Who pays the costs of obtaining proof will depend on the circumstances. Discuss with your employee their ability to contact their medical professional as further time allowances may be needed depending on travel restrictions.
If the employee is not sick, consider whether it is feasible for them to work from home.
The employee may be eligible for the Government’s COVID-19 Leave Support payment. There are rules regarding eligibility and how to apply from Work and Income found here.
If it is not possible for the employee to work from home or the Government’s financial assistance does not apply, discuss with the employee if they would like to use any of their annual leave. Employers can agree to the employee using their annual leave in advance of their entitlement. If the employee has no leave balance, employers may decide to pay the employee special leave or process the time off as authorised leave without pay.
The Government is providing updated information all the time so seek specific advice if this applies. If you are open, take health and safety precautions. This can include holding meetings remotely, distancing workers desks and remind employees of appropriate hygiene practices. Where workers visit client sites it’s important to ascertain if anyone is self-isolated at the site.
Follow all Government instructions and restrictions for your industry.
Explore working from home options or practices that support social distancing. If you are asking employees to remain away from work and not work from home this is normally treated as a paid suspension.
If there are financial concerns, see below regarding restructures or redundancies.
The Government is providing updated information all the time so seek specific advice is this applies.
Discuss the employee’s concerns and try to understand the underlying issue. If you have discussed their concerns and are confident that you have taken all appropriate health and safety measures, it may be possible to commence disciplinary action against your employee (or start an abandonment process if your employee has not been in contact). The advice will depend on whether your business is open and the specific restrictions in place at the time, so seek advice from a workplace relations specialist.
If your business is experiencing a significant downturn as a result of the economic impact of the Coronavirus, you may qualify to receive financial assistance through the New Zealand Government’s planned stimulus package. Alternatively, you may be able to restructure your business resulting in reduced hours for staff or redundancies.
As with any restructure there is a specific step by step consultation process to follow as employees must be advised of the proposed changes in great detail, and their feedback must be considered prior to confirming any outcomes.
It is recommended that you seek workplace relations advice before commencing a restructure process.
Check any restrictions currently in place. The Government’s current advice can be found here. Discuss this with your employee.
Employees who left New Zealand after 16 March 2020 and have now returned and are self-isolating may not be eligible for any announced economic support packages from the Government.
Keep in mind that there are rules regarding annual leave requests that employers and employees must follow. First, check any policies. Under the Holidays Act 2003, an employer should consider all leave requests. While an employer can’t unreasonably decline an employee’s request to use their entitled annual leave, they can refuse a request to take leave at a particular time if they have genuine operational reasons for doing so.
Consider any leave requests in line with your normal policy.
Part of an effective health and safety and business management will be having a crisis management plan for unforeseen future events that may cause risk to health and safety or your businesses operations.
This should be reviewed and updated frequently.
Working from home can be a good solution to continue your operations, however, remember your health and safety obligations will extend to the employee’s home workspace.
Ensure the employee has adequate equipment and conducts an ergonomic assessment of where they will work. Employers should provide employees with equipment or reimburse them for using personal equipment for work purposes. To make expectations clear, employers should have clear policies about the use, storage and return of equipment and what the employee should do if equipment is faulty, lost or damaged.
Remember to check in frequently and set up virtual lines of communication.
Seek advice from a workplace relations expert as payment of employees and how to notify them of changes will depend on the circumstances.
The Government has announced an extended wage subsidy scheme, business cash flow and tax measures for impacted businesses so seek financial advice if required.
The business should assess how long-reaching any effects may be and if possible, consider any relief that may be available from the Government’s economic response package such as the Wage Subsidy Scheme.
If the changes are short term, the business should consider letting employees use any accrued annual leave or a temporary restructure. The process will depend on the potential changes, types of affected employees and their employment agreements.
If the business is closing down or making changes on a more permanent basis then a restructure or redundancy process should be followed. The specifics of the process will again depend on the potential changes, types of affected employees and their employment agreements.
Generally, an employer needs to provide any potentially affected employees with information, time to review that information and the chance to provide feedback that is considered by the business before any final decisions are made.
What Type of Casuals Are We Talking About?
In New Zealand there is no legislative definition of what constitutes a casual employee, however there are rules to ensure an employee is genuinely casual.
Casual employees should only work intermittently and irregularly. They don’t have to accept an offer of work and there’s no expectation that they will be offered work. Casual employees still need to have an employment agreement just like any other employee and this should make clear it is a casual arrangement.
Business Is Slow Due to Coronavirus; Can I Terminate My Casuals’ Employment?
This is an unfortunate circumstance to be in. Remember with genuine casuals, you don’t need to offer them work if it is not available. Therefore, the easiest approach is to simply stop offering them work for the time being (beyond any shifts that have already been offered and accepted).
If there is a risk that the employee is not a genuine casual, seek advice from a workplace relations specialist. If an employee is not genuinely casual, they will be considered a permanent employee and therefore may raise a grievance if they are no longer offered work.
Your options will change according to your individual circumstances. Ensure that you are fully compliant by seeking workplace relations advice.
Business Is Slow Due to Coronavirus; Can I Reduce My Casual Employee’s Hours?
If the employee is a genuine casual, then it is up to you what to offer them. They should not have any expectation or certainty of hours before you offer available work so you can choose to offer them any hours that you have work available.
If you need more specific advice in relation to your situation, seek workplace relations advice.
My Casual Employee Is Not Coming Into Work Due to Coronavirus, What Can I Do?
The nature of casual employment is having the luxury of being able to accept or reject shifts as they see fit (and the same for the employer). Therefore, in this situation where a genuine casual continues to reject shifts due to the Coronavirus, you cannot force them to come to work and you cannot discipline them for this.
The World Health Organisation explains that the Coronavirus (CoV) comes from a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome).
This particular episode has been named ‘COVID-19’. It first was identified in December 2019 in Wuhan, which is within the Hubei province, China. A seafood market has been identified as the possible source of the virus.
Cases in several countries have now emerged and it has been labelled a global pandemic.
The Ministry of Health states that symptoms can include a cough, high temperature (of at least 38°C), shortness of breath, sore throat, sneezing and runny nose, or temporary loss of smell.
The severity of symptoms varies. Some people will suffer from mild illness and recover easily whilst in other cases, infection can progress to pneumonia. Reports suggest that the elderly, those with weakened immune systems, diabetes, cancer and chronic lung disease are the most susceptible to serious illness and death.
Symptoms can appear as few as two days after infection or as long as 14 days (or even longer).
For more information on this topic, please visit the Ministry of Health’s dedicated Coronavirus page.
The virus is most likely to transmitted from person to person through:
Make sure you’re getting only correct, official health and travel from Government sources. Resources are listed below: