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Employers must exercise caution during Alert Level 4

Business owners in New Zealand must ensure they are aware of their obligations as the country moves to COVID-19 Alert Level 4 for the first time in more than a year, according to Employsure, New Zealand’s largest workplace relations advisor.

The first positive community cases since February have forced authorities to introduce a snap three-day Alert Level 4 lockdown for the entire country as of 11.59pm 17 August 2021, while Auckland and the Coromandel Peninsula will be at this level for seven days. As a result, a range of businesses must close, or operate in a limited capacity if essential, as health authorities continue contact tracing.

“As we’re currently seeing in Australia, COVID-19 is still a huge threat to society. These snap lockdowns are the new normal, and we’ll be living like this for some time until vaccination rates lift,” said Employsure Advice Services Team Leader Courtney Woods.

“These lockdowns, while needed, add a significant financial strain on small business. Employers will be feeling anxious, and many are operating at a far bigger loss than the financial support being offered. Some businesses are resilient and have shifted operations where applicable, but for others, these restrictions add to an already heavy financial and emotional toll.”

If employers in affected industries are required to close during the Alert Level 4 restrictions, 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 are considered essential services and can remain open, they should ensure they have an up to date COVID safety plan. Businesses that can switch their operations by having employees work from home must do so.

Business owners should 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 mask wearing, physical distancing, regular handwashing with soap and the use of hand-sanitiser. Appropriate routine environmental cleaning and disinfection should occur regularly at all workplaces.

Should a worker or employee fall ill, additional control measures need to be initiated. This includes isolating the infected person, identifying anyone they may have come in contact with and disinfecting the areas they have been working in.

“There is no disputing that action is required to stop the spread of the virus, particularly given its highly contagious nature,” continued Ms Woods.

“To help restrictions ease as soon as possible, business owners need to ensure they meet their health and safety responsibilities, comply with their legal obligations, and follow government directions.”

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