The coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak continues to dominate the headlines. As of today, New Zealand has fewer than ten known cases of coronavirus COVID-19, with an expectation of more.
There are a range of queries from employers hitting our desks on a daily basis. Sensible actions for employers include the following:
- Keep abreast of the World Health Organisation and government advice and communicate this to employees.
- Update contact details of employees and circulate emergency contact details for key employees.
- Carry out a risk assessment, ensure good hygiene practices in the workplace, and train employees on the key facts and risks.
- Update any policies or procedures (e.g. sickness absence, dependent care leave, flexible/home working) that may be affected by an outbreak of coronavirus COVID-19 in your workplace.
- Display signs of symptoms and steps employees should take if they suspect they may have come into contact with someone unwell, including details of the nearest medical centre equipped to deal with the virus.
- Ask employees to report to HR if they themselves have been to a high-risk destination or if they’ve been in contact with someone who has been to a high-risk destination, regardless of whether or not they’re exhibiting symptoms.
- Keep a lid on non-essential travel, quarantining those who’ve returned recently from high-risk areas.
On the contractual side, employers should carefully review internal policies and employment agreements to check whether there are any provisions enabling them keep employees away from work and at home lawfully. We’ve have seen many employers increase their capacity to support remote-working arrangements as needed. Duty of care obligations in respect of health and safety are front and center for many employers.
Not every employee has to be paid for time off due to coronavirus COVID 19 issues, though many employers will be exercising discretion to do so. Sick leave will be payable to some, but not all. Employers should think laterally about innovative use of annual leave, carers leave and unpaid leave. Business interruption and force majeure clauses will need to be looked at in the event of office closures, so early consideration of how these clauses will be used in your workplace, if closure becomes necessary, is vital.