Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA) Northern - Obligations for Employers to manage Novel Coronavirus

Obligations for Employers to manage Novel Coronavirus

22 Oct 2020
EMA members have been calling AdviceLine for more information on potential effects on their workplace from (COVID-19) Novel Coronavirus.

Most of them are concerned about their obligations in allowing staff returning from affected countries to return to work or, if the employee is in self-isolation what their responsibilities are around pay during this time.​ 


With five confirmed case of Coronavirus in New Zealand at time of writing, the Ministry of Health guidance is:

If you have arrived today or transited through mainland China or Iran, or have been in close contact with someone confirmed with COVID-19, in the last 14 days:

·       We ask that you self-isolate for 14 days from the date of departure or close contact

·       Please register your details with Healthline if you have not already (call 0800 358 5453 or +64 9 358 5453 for international SIM).

We’re also asking people who have visited Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Singapore and Thailand and who have developed symptoms of fever, cough or shortness of breath to seek medical advice by first phoning Healthline’s dedicated COVID-19 number 0800 358 5453 or contact your GP, including phoning ahead of your visit.

The EMA’s advice is to have an up-front discussion with any employees arriving back from affected areas overseas before they come back to work to make them aware of the Ministry of Health expectation that they self-isolate for 14 days. This is not mandatory.

 

There may be the opportunity to work from home during this time, but if that is not an option, discussions in good faith should be undertaken about other possibilities including using sick leave, annual leave or the employer granting such leave in advance. If an employee is willing to self-isolate then the employer can discuss with them about options of paid and unpaid leave to reach agreement to deal with the situation.

 

The challenge for employers arises when an employee declines to self-isolate, cannot work from home, does not wish to use leave, and wants to come back to work but the employer says they cannot for health and safety reasons for the 14 days. Generally, if a person is fit to work and the employer refuses to allow them to work, the employer must pay that person for that period (such as suspension).

 

However, given the directive from the Ministry of Health around its expectations of self-isolation, an employer could arguably rely on this to prevent the employee from coming to work on health and safety grounds and not be liable to pay the employee for the time they are away from work.

 

Again, in the first instance employers should be working with impacted staff in good faith to make arrangements around self-isolation, and whether paid or unpaid leave or a mixture of both will be used.

 

The status globally and locally of COVID-19 continues to unfold and the EMA will keep members up-to-date as the situation.​

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