As many of you are now well aware, there has been a novel strand of the Coronavirus identified in humans for the first time. The new strand, known as (2019-nCoV) (the Coronavirus) was first reported in Wuhan, China on 31 December 2019, but has rapidly spread throughout the world, causing the World Health Organisation (WHO) to declare a global emergency.
Despite our Government's best effort's, New Zealand still needs to prepare for the possibility of an outbreak. Employers will need to determine how they will deal with a number of situations, such as:
an employer's obligations in relation to Health and Safety; the ability to require employees to stay home; an employee's ability to refuse to attend work; and whether an employer is obliged to provide further paid sick leave in the event that an employee has exhausted their sick leave entitlements. Health and safety
The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 requires that a person conducting business or undertaking (PCBU) ensures so far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers. In doing so, employers must identify and manage hazards, take reasonable steps to eliminate such hazards, or isolate them if elimination is not possible.
In a Coronavirus outbreak, the reasonable steps an employer will be required to take will vary depending on the type of workplace. The risk of infection will be greater in some workplaces (such as those in the service industry) than it will be in others. In general, providing hand sanitiser, tissues and encouraging respiratory hygiene and safe food practices, are good initial steps to follow to minimise the risk of the Coronavirus spreading.
Employers also need to consider what steps they may need to take to ensure employees have the option to work from home. For example, this may include ensuring employees have access to laptops and/or remote logins and in turn preparing for additional support to IT services.
If an employee develops symptoms of the Coronavirus, an employer will have an obligation to take reasonable steps in order to protect the health and safety of its other employees, so far as reasonable practical. Such steps will depend on what policies and employment agreements are in place. Employers may want to consider reviewing or implementing a pandemic planning policy.
Sick leave entitlements
An employee who takes sick leave is entitled to be paid for 5 days after 6 months of continuous employment and can also opt to take annual leave as...