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New COVID-19 Alert Levels – Employers Urged To Be Vigilant

Employers operating across the country must ensure they are aware of their obligations as Auckland moves to Alert Level 3, and the rest of New Zealand moves to Alert Level 2 for three days, according to Employsure, New Zealand’s largest workplace relations advisor.

Several new cases of COVID-19 community transmission have prompted the Government to impose the restrictions until at least midnight Wednesday. As a result, many businesses have been forced to consider alternative ways of operating, or in some cases, close, as health authorities elevate testing efforts to identify any potential community spread.

Under Alert Level 3, businesses that require close physical contact must close. Only businesses providing necessities, such as supermarkets, dairies, butchers, fishmongers, greengrocers, petrol stations, pharmacies or permitted health services can allow customers onto their premises.

For other businesses, customers cannot go onto the premises and operations must be contactless. It is recommended staff work from home if possible. All public venues, including libraries, museums, gyms, pools, and cinemas must shut. Where possible, students are encouraged to learn from home, however schools can safely open at the alert level, but will have limited capacity.

Businesses can operate under Alert Level 2 but must legally follow public health rules, keep records of customers, practice good hygiene and enforce physical distancing.

“Just like we saw last year in New Zealand, as well as what we’re also seeing in parts of Australia, these short, sharp lockdowns are now the new normal as we deal with these new, infectious strains of coronavirus,” said Employsure Advice Services Team Leader Gabby Adds.

“Business owners throughout New Zealand must be aware of what this now means for them. If employers in affected industries are told to close, they need to abide by these rules. Not only will they incur a fine if they fail to do so, but they risk the health of their staff, customers, and clients.

“For those who can remain open, they need to enforce that employees adhere to public health guidelines. Businesses that can switch their operations by having employees work from home must do so.”

Business owners are being urged to remain vigilant, plan for the worst and hope for the best. If an employee or independent contractor tests positive to COVID-19 over the coming days and has physically been in the workplace while infected, the employer must notify health authorities as soon as they become aware.

Having an effective infection control policy that includes identifying and assessing the infection hazards at the workplace, and implementing specific controls can help eliminate or minimise the risk of transmission. These may include physical distancing, regular handwashing with soap, and the use of hand-sanitiser. Appropriate routine environmental cleaning and disinfection should occur regularly at all workplaces.

“These next few days will be crucial as we work to stop this new outbreak in its tracks. Business owners need to ensure they’re meeting their health and safety responsibilities, complying with their legal obligations, and following Government directions,” continued Ms Adds.

“Employers may need to direct employees to stay away from the workplace or employees may be required to self-isolate. Employers will need to consider whether employees are entitled to sick leave or able to utilise paid or unpaid leave entitlements. The employer may also be able to access the Short-Term Absence Payment or the Leave Support Scheme to support paying impacted employees.

“This lockdown may be extended, or more may occur again as we wait for the rollout of the vaccine. Small businesses should use this time to stock up on whatever PPE is necessary for their workplace. What we don’t want to see is more cases of COVID-19 as a result of workplaces becoming complacent, or simply failing to follow the rules,” she concluded.

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