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Workplace Health and SafetyFebruary 19, 2020
Following the torrential rains and massive floods in the South Island, and the natural disasters impacting Australia’s eastern seaboard, Kiwi business owners may be asking themselves what they can do in case their business is majorly impacted by a natural disaster such as a fire, flood or earthquake.
The following article tackles some popular queries when it comes to the natural disaster impact on business.
An important first step is to identify the risks of a natural disaster hitting your workplace or workplaces, and how those disasters may impact your business.
Consider the type of natural disaster and its nature, as well as the health risks and impact on utilities (e.g. electricity and water availability) it’s likely to have.
After conducting a risk assessment, prepare an emergency plan for your business. This includes communication strategies (e.g. how you will alert staff that the emergency plan has been put into action), logistical movements, appointing wardens and training staff in first-aid, providing safety equipment, and emergency contact information.
In fact, emergency plans are a health and safety requirement. Given the somewhat unpredictable nature of natural disasters, planning for emergencies ahead of time is also best practice.
The health and safety of your employees and visitors to your workplace should be the main concern of businesses, during a natural disaster.
It’s hard, if not impossible, to ensure your workers are safe during natural disasters. Given the unpredictable nature of natural disasters, there can only be best practice actions put in place.
An emergency plan, or emergency procedure, covers for:
Perhaps one of the most important parts of any emergency plan is that it is effectively communicated to staff.
There are various employee rights that an employer may have to manage during or after a natural disaster.
These include things like their rights to pay and leave after a natural disaster, and the right to refuse work for health and safety reasons.
After a natural disaster, employees may not be able to work for several reasons. These reasons include:
To ascertain if an employee shall be paid in the circumstances listed above, the employer and affected employee/s should refer to their employment agreement or workplace policies. If they are not provided for, then the employer and employee can discuss the issue in good faith and come to an agreement about how the time off work shall be classed as (e.g. annual holidays, leave without pay, special leave, etc).
With dependents, if the employee’s dependent is sick or injured then the employee can use their sick leave entitlement. However, if normal childcare is not available, for example if a school is shut, then sick leave does not apply.
There are also specific rules for employees who are guaranteed hours and shift workers relating to a cancellation or early ending of shifts. Get in touch with Employsure to learn more about shift workers.
If employees feel it is not safe to be at work, they can stop work because of health and safety concerns. If this takes place, the employer and employees must make reasonable efforts to resolve the issue; furthermore, employers may also be able to provide safe and suitable alternative work until the issues at the regular workplace are resolved.
It’s very hard to say. An employee may be missing from work during a state of emergency for a variety of reasons.
In the case of a state of emergency, an employee may not have turned up to work for obvious reasons – they cannot access work due to circumstances out of their control, telecommunications systems are down and they cannot contact you, or they themselves are injured or sick.
The Employment Relations Act stipulates that employers must follow a fair and reasonable process, and keep an open mind when dealing with problems, and act in good faith before dismissing an employee.
Therefore, the reasons that an employee can be dismissed for during a state of emergency are very specific. For more information on terminating the employment of an employee during a state of emergency, please contact Employsure.