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What Does New Zealand’s Alert Level Change Mean For Employers?

Published April 21, 2020 (last updated December 7, 2020) -

The Covid Alert Level system is an initiative by the Government to help concisely and transparently communicate to all New Zealanders how authorities will manage the Covid-19 outbreak.

The system, consisting of four Levels, dictates a whole range of temporary measures, directives and other regulations that will be in force during that Level, with ‘Level 1 Prepare’ being the most regular stage and ‘Level 4 Lockdown’ being the most restrictive stage.

While the Alert Level system is society-wide, this article will only discuss the system with regards to what it means to employers.

What Are the Different Alert Levels?

There are four stages to the Alert Level system. They are known as:

  • Level 1 Prepare
  • Level 2 Reduce
  • Level 3 Restrict
  • Level 4 Lockdown

Each stage brings different restrictions on which businesses can operate, and the manner in which they must operate in. For example, on Level 3 retail business may open but only conduct deliveries.

Other measures included in each stage also regard whether schools and other educational facilities may open (and again, if they open, how they must operate), whether large gatherings can take place, and whether working from home is encouraged or enforced.

For more information on the Alert Level system, please visit the official Covid-19 Government website.

What Alert Level Are We In?

Currently, New Zealand is on Level 4 – Lockdown.

This means that only ‘Essential’ businesses may open, all educational facilities are closed, and if possible, employees must work from home.

What Does the Current Alert Level Mean for Employers?

New Zealand is currently on Alert Level 4 from 11.59pm 25 March 2020.  The Government has stated this will apply for at least 4 weeks. Level 4 means people are instructed to stay home, educational facilities and all non-essential businesses will be closed.

If you must shut down your business or parts of your business, there are a number of options available to you:

  • working from home arrangements
  • consulting with your employees to reduce their hours if parts of your business can still operate
  • agreeing with your employees that they will take their accrued leave entitlements during this time
  • agreeing with your employees to take unpaid leave during this time
  • redundancy or temporary restructures
  • paying your employees as normal and using the Government’s wage subsidy if applicable

The Government announced that the country will go down to Alert Level 3 at 11:59pm on Monday 27 April.

How Can I Prepare for Any Changes in the Alert Level?

Firstly, be aware of what each alert level will mean for your business. The Government is planning on providing further industry guidance over the coming days.

While we don’t currently know when the alert level will change, it is prudent to plan for both a continuation of Level 4 and prepare to make any adjustments needed to operate at level 3.

Avoid implementing any changes until the announcement. After the announcement of the new level, businesses will have at least 48 hours to get ready for the change.

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.

You may be allowed 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 not able to operate if the alert level goes to level 3, plan for how you are going to process your employee’s time away from work. If you need to make any changes, you should consult with employees and record any 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

When Do We Find Out If the Coronavirus Lockdown Is Lifted?

At the time of writing, we don’t know when New Zealand will reach Alert Level 1.

On 20 April, the Government announced that the Alert Level will be reduced for Level 4 to Level 3. This change will come into effect at 11:59pm on 27 April and will last for two weeks. The Government will then indicate whether the Alert Level is going to be reduced to Level 2 or not.

Will some regions stay in lockdown while others go to Alert Level 3?

It depends. Some regions may decide to go to a different Alert Level than the provided by the national Government.

Will Schools Be Open at Alert Level 3?

Schools may open on Alert Level 3. Physical attendance is voluntary, and if a school has a case of Coronavirus then the school may shut down temporarily.

Do Social Distancing Rules Still Apply?

Yes, social distancing rules still apply in Alert Level 3, and are likely to also apply in Alert Levels 1 and 2.

Which Businesses Can Reopen?

The Government has said that businesses where the work can not be done from home, and that can “safely” reopen, may do so. This includes businesses like retail shops. Retailers can open but shoppers aren’t allowed in store and they may only trade by contactless purchase (e.g. by using delivery or click and collect methods). These rules don’t apply to retailers like supermarkets, dairies and petrol stations.

Can You List Examples of Businesses That Can Open?

Examples of business that may open during Alert Level 3, depending if they comply with relevant regulations, include:

  • Trades services such as plumbers, electricians and others working in residential buildings.
  • Retail stores
  • Essential services that could trade during Level 4:
    • Supermarkets
    • Dairies
    • Petrol Stations
    • Security services
    • Freight and trucking companies

What Will I Need to Do To Open My Business?

In terms of workplace relations, if your business was closed in Level 4 but may open in Level 3 you most importantly have to ensure you prioritise HWS.

Ensure you have effectively communicated to all staff how you will implement HWS, including social distancing instructions, providing hand sanitiser and other personal protective equipment (PPE) as required.

You will also have to notify staff that you are re-opening your business and begin to engage them as you would normally (e.g. pay them, allow them to take annual leave, etc).

Will I Need PPE if I’m Going Back to Work?

Generally, no. Unless your business and employees are likely to be interacting with people carrying the Coronavirus (e.g. as a hospital would be) they you do not need personal protective equipment (PPE) specifically to combat the Coronavirus.

Can an Employee Take A Domestic Flight to Attend A Meeting?

If the meeting can take place over a video or phone call, then the answer is no. If the meeting can only function with face-to-face interaction – say for example, a medical consultation – then an employee can take a domestic flight to attend that meeting.

When Will Businesses That Involve Close Personal Contact Be Allowed to Open?

At the time of writing, it is unsure. In Alert Level 3, retailers can only engage in contactless trade and not allow customers into their stores.

This is except for supermarkets, dairies and petrol stations, who may allow customers into their stores as long as those customers maintain social distancing and are let in one at a time.

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