Coronavirus: practical recommendations for employers

14 February 2020

David Browne2It is clear the Coronavirus presents a concern to the health and welfare of all peoples and nations.  While there are no reports of confirmed cases in New Zealand some risk remains and, the financial impact of the virus is beginning to be felt in some sectors of the economy.  Logging has reportedly been affected due to a shortage of port workers in China, who were directed to take two weeks off work by the central government in order to help stop the spread of the virus.

Tourism and education sectors are also beginning to see a downturn as border controls take hold.

The news today that an expert investigation team from the World Health Organization will travel to China to assist would appear to be an encouraging development in the unpredictable outbreak.  As governments, including New Zealand take steps to control the spread of the virus, it would be useful for members of the Otago Southland Employers’ Association to consider some practical things that can be done in the workplace to ensure they meet their good faith obligations under the Employment Relations Act and also their duty to provide a safe workplace, under the Health and Safety Act.

Prepare

The risk of infection in New Zealand is said to be low.  Nevertheless, we are recommending Employer’s prepare their workplace for a possible outbreak of the virus.  Employers can begin to do that by setting up a method for staff to report suspected cases of infection.  In the first instance this could be reported to a front-line manager or the health and safety representative who may already be on their team.

Sick Leave

New Zealand citizens and permanent residents recently returned from China are requested to self-isolate at home for a period of 14 days to ensure they are free of the virus.

Should an employee be off work whether due to self-quarantine or out of concern they may have been exposed to the virus, we would recommend paying sick leave to that staff member, even if no sign of the virus is ever found.

Of course, an employee who becomes unwell due to illness, including the coronavirus will be entitled to paid sick leave.  Similarly, an employee who stays off work to care for a close family member can also access paid sick leave.

Holiday Pay

With the notice period required under the Holidays Act being the same two-week period for self-quarantine the employer will miss the opportunity to direct the employee to take annual leave to cover the time away from work.  Accordingly access to paid holidays during the period of self-quarantine will only be possible if the employee and employer agree the time away from work will be taken as annual leave.

Hygiene

Some simple things staff should be doing to manage the risk associated with spreading virus
includes:

  • Practice good hygiene, washing hands for a minimum of 20 seconds to prevent spreading the virus.
  • Practice good cough etiquette, covering sneezes and coughs.
  • Avoid touching the mouth, nose and eyes, where viruses can enter the body.
  • Avoid close contact with others, maintaining a one meter distance.

The Ministry of Health provides helpful information and the link to their website is here.

If you would like to discuss the particular circumstances of your workplace please don’t hesitate to contact one of our legal team, Adam Siwerski, Solicitor on 456 1809; Stu Adamson, Solicitor on 021 197 4603 or David Browne, Senior Solicitor on 456 1812.

Further information is available from the following organisations:

  • Coronavirus Healthline 0800 358 5453
  • Ministry of Health coronavirus advice
  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade China travel advice
  • World Health Organisation global situation

 

David Browne | Senior Solicitor/Legal Team Manager


 

Legal Team

 

David Browne | Senior Solicitor/Legal Team Manager | 03 456 1812 | 021 225 6938 | david@osea.org.nz

Adam Siwerski | Solicitor | 03 456 1809 | 021 756 809 | adam@osea.org.nz

Stu Adamson | Solicitor | 021 197 4603 | stu@osea.org.nz 

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