Employers Obligations at Alert Level 3 – Coronavirus – COVID-19

From Tuesday 28 April the country is at Alert Level 3.

This means that where it is possible to work from home, employees must do so.

But where businesses have employees who cannot work from home, some businesses can begin operating, provided they meet certain criteria and introduce suitable health and safety measures.

Businesses still cannot have customers come onto their premises (unless they are essential services such as supermarkets).

As we move into Alert Level 3, requirements may be introduced or changed.  We recommend you stay up to date via the government website (www.covid19.govt.nz) and the WorkSafe website (https://worksafe.govt.nz).

Workers who can work from home

WorkSafe has said that employees must work from home unless that is ‘not possible’.  This is a high expectation.  It does not mean “not convenient” or “not reasonably practicable”.  We expect employers will be expected to try to solve any issues that might otherwise prevent an employee working from home, including provision of suitable equipment and software.  If the employer can enable an employee to work from home, it should do so.

The focus in the media has been on the safety of employees working outside their home.  But employers should remember they also have obligations to workers at home.  This means considering ergonomic issues eg do they have a suitable desk and chair and if not, can you provide one?  Also monitoring workload levels, mental health and stress to manage health and safety risks arising from isolation.  WorkSafe recommend regular team calls to check in with people and considering flexibility of work hours to accommodate workers at home with children.

Workers returning to the workplace/work sites

High risk workers must remain at home.  If other employees are reluctant to work, we recommend you attempt to address that with them and seek specific advice if you cannot reach agreement. 

For businesses which can begin operating by returning to the workplace, or to work sites, you will need to assess your ability for workers to do so safely.  We recommend you complete the template Covid-19 Safety Plan on the WorkSafe website:  https://worksafe.govt.nz/managing-health-and-safety/novel-coronavirus-covid-19/your-covid-19-safety-plan/

If one of your workers contracts Covid-19, WorkSafe are likely to ask for your Plan and assess your compliance with it.  If you have put appropriate safety measures in place and followed them, then you should be able to avoid WorkSafe enforcement action if someone at your workplace contracts Covid-19.

For guidance on suitable controls, the construction sector should refer to the comprehensive information provided by CHASNZ https://www.chasnz.org/covid19

Some of the CHASNZ guidance will also be helpful for other sectors, such as manufacturing.  There are good charts on their website.  For example, for hygiene when returning home and for handwashing.

In all cases, as a minimum, you will need to ensure good hygiene and physical distancing at work.  You should consider split shifts, staggered break times and appropriate cleaning practices.  You will need methods to assist with contract tracing and procedures for sending workers home if they have symptoms of Covid-19.  Your business must be contactless, including delivery and pickups.  There is guidance available on the WorkSafe website.

In all cases, engaging with your workers about their safety will be key.  You should be checking in regularly with workers about their safety and there should be clear procedures for workers to raise health and safety concerns.

Also, all your usual health and safety obligations remain.  In some cases, the controls to address Covid-19 may create new or heightened risks you will need to address.

Specific Advice

If you require specific advice, Rice Craig is “open for business”.  You may email Rani Amaranathan for employment law advice rani@ricecraig.co.nz.

Get in touch with us today!