COVID-19 EMPLOYMENT LAW UPDATE: WORKPLACE SAFETY AT LEVEL 3

24 April 2020 – Workplace Safety Moving into Alert Level 3.  

Last Friday we sent out an update regarding businesses who may be able to open under Alert Level 3.

As we near closer to the transition to Level 3 there are still some questions employers may be asking.

Essentially, workers who can work from home must keep doing so. But if employees are re-entering the workplace in Level 3, health and safety measures need to be thorough and must all continue to maintain social distancing and hygiene practices.

The COVID-19 Alert Levels Table states that:

Workplaces can only open if:

  • Workers cannot work from home, and
  • Workplaces are operating safely, and
  • Customers are not allowed on premises, and
  • Businesses can trade without physical contact with customers (e.g. through phone/online orders, delivery, pick-up and drive-through).

Businesses cannot offer services that involve close personal contact, unless it is an essential service, emergency or critical situation.

Supermarkets, dairies and petrol stations can have customers on premises.

If businesses cannot operate safely, workers must not go to work and premises should remain closed.”

WorkSafe is requiring all non-essential businesses that plan to open at Level 3 to have a COVID-19 Safety Plan in place.  

Your plan must set out how the business will manage all risks and how the business will protect all workers, customers and others from the virus.

Our suggestions for what should be in your Safety Plan are below:

So, what does operating safely mean and how should it look in your workplace? 

At least one metre distancing between co-workers must always be maintained

General public health advice must always be practiced i.e. regular disinfection of all surfaces, plenty of places for workers to wash and dry hands regularly, coughing into elbows, restrain from touching your face, and stay home if you’re sick. Flu-like symptoms should be reported.

Communication with workers is important to make sure anyone who is unwell or at risk do not come to work.

Records should be kept for contact tracing. This means information should be kept about all people (workers, customers, couriers or anyone else) who encounter the business or employees. Information kept should include the date and time of visit, full name, address, phone number and email address.

All other health and safety measures must be applied.

Other measure such as putting up Perspex screens as “sneeze guards” are also recommended.

My business fits the criteria to open at Level 3, can I require workers to return? 

If the workplace can open and adhere to all the requirements for safe operation, employers will be able to require staff to return. This is likely to be a lawful and reasonable instruction. However, employers may need to consider the circumstances for workers who are considered vulnerable.

The public health guidelines state that anyone who has underlying medical conditions, is immunocompromised, over 70, or pregnant are at more risk if they contract COVID-19. Therefore, they must take extra precautions during this time.

If you want a worker to return at Level 3 who may be more at risk, you can request medical evidence of their condition. Employers should consult in good faith with these employees to consider alternative arrangements.

If a vulnerable person wishes to return to work, employers must reach an agreement with the employee about having the necessary safety precautions in place.

Such good faith and communication could also apply to workers who have dependants to look after. Early childhood centres and schools will be open again in Level 3 and it is reasonable for employers to expect workers to make childcare arrangements. However, employers may choose to be flexible such as adjusting work times to accommodate when employees can have childcare arrangements in place.

We are in this together. Always, if you have any doubts queries etc. BuckettLaw would be pleased to help.

Remember: #ResilenceKindnessCommunicate.

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although BuckettLaw is based in Wellington City, it services clients throughout New Zealand, with a focus on servicing employees and organisations in certain regions.

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