A combination of common sense, empathy and practicality is required from employers in New Zealand to help halt any spreading of coronavirus and look after the retail workers who could end up putting themselves in harm’s way, FIRST Union said today.
"There’s a tension and a very real risk here for retail workers, who often end up working while sick because of the pressure not to call in and ‘let the team down’," said Tali Williams, FIRST Union Secretary for Retail, Finance and Commerce.
"Obviously, they shouldn’t be doing working while sick in the first place, but it’s especially difficult for people who don’t have enough paid sick leave remaining to take adequate time off to rest and recover, coronavirus or not."
"Either way, this is a problem as it means there’s potential for transmission from customers to staff and vice versa, and employers must ensure that there’s no pressure on retail workers to come in to work sick."
"Employers should cover general sick leave and observe their obligations under the Act - they cannot afford to run the risk of exposing their entire workforces to this illness because one person’s run out of leave and drags themselves in to work," said Ms Williams.
"It’s an unfortunate truth that dealing with sickness, serious or not, is usually secondary to getting paid for retail workers - many of them are struggling on minimum wage and practically speaking, they cannot afford to miss a shift at work."
Regarding self-isolation, under the Health and Safety at Work 2015 Act, all employers have a duty to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers and other people in the workplace. In the current circumstances, it would be inconsistent with the Act for an employer to require an employee who is expected to be in self-isolation to attend the workplace.
"Where staff are in isolation, the only appropriate course of action for employers is to continue to pay them as normal."
"It would be inappropriate for an employer to require an employee to take annual leave or unpaid leave where they are in isolation for legitimate health and safety reasons."
"Finally, we are hearing from our members that staffing levels in supermarkets may need to increase in the short-term as panic buying is creating lines out of the door in some areas."
"Supermarket workers are already running themselves ragged and dealing with some very stressed customers, and the extra support would make a big contribution to everyone’s wellbeing."