Educating employees about the importance of hygiene – washing hands regularly and for at least 20 seconds, using hand sanitiser, not sharing cutlery, sneezing or coughing into a tissue or the elbow and not shaking hands if it can be avoided.
Ensuring the workplace is stocked with hand sanitiser, soaps, wipes to clean down workstations and surfaces.
Communicating important announcements from the Government and Ministry of Health to employees, either in team meetings or by email.
Encouraging employees to arrange Skype/Zoom meetings with clients if appropriate, instead of face to face meetings.
Leading by example (but without panicking) and ensuring those in leadership positions take COVID-19 seriously and do not seek to minimise or make light of the virus.
Recognising that there are mental health considerations too. An employer’s health and safety obligations extend to taking steps to protect employees from mental harm. Employers should “check in” with employees who are noticeably worried/distressed about COVID-19 and external support such as EAP should be offered.
SELF ISOLATION AND LEAVE ARRANGEMENTS
The Government had mandated that anybody who has had close contact with somebody who has COVID-19 must self-isolate for a period of 14 days. Anybody returning to New Zealand from overseas must also self-isolate for the same period.
Strictly speaking, an employee who is required to self-isolate but who is not actually sick or does not have COIVD-19 does not qualify for sick leave under the Holidays Act. In this situation we recommend employers consider alternative working arrangements, such as allowing the employee to work remotely from home if this is possible (the employee is then paid as usual). If the employee cannot practically work from home then employers might consider allowing them to use any of their remaining sick leave during the self-isolation period or allowing them to take paid sick leave in advance of entitlement. Employers might consider agreeing to paid special leave although there is no statutory or contractual entitlement to do this. Employees cannot be forced to use their annual leave during a self-isolation period; however they can consent to this.
As with all employment decisions, employers must be fair and reasonable. If an employee is required to self-isolate through no fault of their own they may expect to be paid as normal during that period. Employers should assess the circumstances. In the case of an employee who elects to travel overseas for a non-essential reason and is then required to self-isolate, employers may be justified in refusing to offer any paid special leave for the self-isolation period. Employers will need to pay staff who need to self-isolate on returning from work-related travel.
If an employee is actually sick or is caring for a dependent who is sick then the usual sick leave rules apply.