Last updated: 29 March 2020
On this page:
- Essential workers may have reasons not to go to work
- Steps to raise and address workplace concerns
- Subsidies for essential workers staying at home
All workers, except essential service workers, are required to self-isolate under Alert Level 4. This page has guidance on what to do if an essential worker has reasons not to go to work.
It is important to remember that, even if a business provides an essential service, it must still operate in a way that minimises the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
There is new information for essential businesses trading on Easter during Alert Level 4, following the Government announcement on 31 March 2020.
Essential workers may have reasons not to go to work
Certain essential service workers should or may wish to stay at home for reasons, including:
- They are sick with COVID-19, or unwell generally.
- They need to self-isolate as per Ministry of Health guidelines, due to recent travel or close contact with someone confirmed to have COVID-19.
- They are caring for dependents who are required to self-isolate, as per Ministry of Health guidelines.
- They, or someone they live with, meets the definition of a vulnerable person, including those who are 70+, pregnant, taking certain medication, or receiving certain treatment. These people are advised to stay home at Alert Level 2 or higher.
- They do not believe the workplaces has adequate health and safety measures to minimise their risk of contracting COVID-19.
Workers and employers should follow public health guidance and health and safety laws, work together pragmatically and deal with each other in good faith.
Steps to raise and address workplace concerns
The worker must notify their employer that they:
- believe they are at risk of spreading COVID-19 and why,
- are concerned that attending their workplace places them at risk of being exposed to COVID-19 and why,
- have any concerns about working that put themselves or others at risk.
Employers and workers should be guided by latest public health guidance from the Ministry of Health on COVID-19.
If the employer agrees there is a reasonable risk related to COVID-19 (or any other risk), they must do what is reasonably practicable to address the risk. If the risk affects a large group of workers, address this in good faith with the wider workforce. If the risk affects individuals or a small group of workers, address this in good faith with those workers.
If an employer does not take reasonable steps to manage a risk to a worker or any other person arising from the work being performed, they may be in breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015. They should not require a worker to do that work until they have taken reasonable steps to manage the risk.
Minimising the risk of COVID-19 transmission in a workplace
Even if a business is essential, they must still operate in a way that minimises the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Businesses should:
- minimise, or eliminate if possible, physical interactions among staff and with and between customers
- ensure appropriate health, hygiene and safety measures are in place
- provide any Personal protective equipment (PPE) that could be reasonably expected, in order to reduce the risk
- restrict activity to only what is essential during the Alert Level 4 period. If essential worker can be performed by a worker from their home (bearing in mind working at home, or away from home can involve risk to others required to stay in the home during lockdown), they should do so.
Some employers may negotiate “hazard pay” or additional compensation on top of current wages. There is no legal requirement for a businesses to pay “hazard pay”, and businesses that do offer “hazard pay” must still comply with all of their obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act.
Subsidies for essential workers staying at home
All New Zealand employers who have been adversely affected by COVID-19 are eligible to apply for the Government’s Wage Subsidy Scheme. This includes essential businesses.
On Friday 27 March, the Government announced it was working on arrangements for those in essential work who require sick leave due to COVID-19. We will update this page with more detail when it is available.