COVID-19 Alert Level 3: What can employers expect?

General / 17 April 2020
COVID-19 Alert Level 3: What can employers expect?

The Government has now released guidance on what we can expect at Alert Level 3, with an announcement due to be made on Monday 20 April 2020, on whether we will shift down to this next week. Ahead of this, it is advisable for employers to start thinking about what a move to Alert Level 3 will mean for their business.

What does Level 3 look like for businesses and workers?

The key difference between Level 4 and Level 3 is there is a shift from “essential operations” to “safe operations.” This shift will allow many workplaces to resume business, but not all. Those who can work from home, must still do so.  Those business which can open safely, must take health and safety measures in the same way as have been prescribed for essential businesses.

Key Considerations

The Government has advised that at Alert Level 3:

  • If possible, workers must work from home
  • Workplaces must operate safely, by following these standards:
    • Keeping a minimum of 1 metre distance between workers;
    • Keeping records of which employees are working together;
    • Limiting interactions between groups of workers; and
    • Disinfecting surfaces and maintaining high standards of hygiene.
  • Retail and hospitality businesses may only open for delivery and contactless pre-ordered pick up – customers cannot enter stores
  • Alert Level 4 rules and restrictions will remain applicable for supermarkets, dairies and petrol stations
  • Businesses are unable to offer any service which requires face-to-face contact or any sustained close contact. The Government has listed examples of these services, which include hairdressing, massage, house cleaning and door-to-door salespeople
  • In home services can be provided, if it is safe to do so. The Government has stated trades such as electricians, plumbers and relevant repair/installation services are able to resume, provided there is a 2 metre separation from the people within the house
  • Businesses must practice good hygiene measures including:
    • Handwashing with soap and water;
    • Physical distancing;
    • Appropriate etiquette when sneezing or coughing; and
    • Wiping down all surfaces.

How can employers begin to prepare for Level 3?

Health and safety risk management is the first consideration. Measures should be put in place to minimise the risk of exposure and transmission to COVID-19 for workers and anyone the business may interact with.

Working from home

As stated above, if it is possible, employees must work from home. Employers who have not yet taken steps to ensure the health and safety of those workers at home should do so – Government guidance on this is available here.

Increased health and safety measures

Employers will be required to comply with the health and safety guidance formulated by the Government. This includes physical distancing, high standards of hygiene, disinfecting surfaces, keeping records of employees who work together and limited interactions between groups of workers. Businesses should consider what other mechanisms they can put in place to manage these risks and promote health and safety, for example:

  • Virtual meetings;
  • Screening processes for employees and visitors to the worksite;
  • Signing in procedures to assist contact tracing;
  • Staggered shifts/rest and meal breaks;
  • Supervision of employees working together;
  • Contactless deliveries;
  • How travel requirements for employees can work safely;
  • Online health and safety induction for all employees prior to their return to work;
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) per Ministry of Health advice;
  • Increased cleaning of workspaces; and
  • Declarations for employees and visitors to the workplace, consistent with Ministry of Health guidelines.

As part of a return to work, employers should implement a policy which will clearly outline the expectations of employees in terms of health and safety, throughout each Alert Level. This will also help to address the fear and concerns that employees may have about coming back to the workplace in light of the COVID-19 risks.

At risk/vulnerable workers

When the Alert Level shifts down to Level 3, the Government has issued guidance that “people at higher-risk of severe illness from COVID-19 are encouraged to take additional precautions when leaving home.” Examples of those considered at higher risk include anyone with an underlying medical condition and older workers. Employers should continue to discuss particular safe work requirements with at risk employees and consider conducting individual risk assessments before their return to work. Employers could include medical input as forming part of this risk assessment.  For employees who can’t return to work, employers will need to assess what leave and payment arrangements are available and appropriate.

Message for Employers

Employers need to begin planning and implementing strategies and safety measures for the way that they will work, when Alert Level 3 is announced. The Government indicates that it expects to release more industry specific information in the coming days.

Clearly, many businesses won’t be able to fully operate under Alert Level 3, and may need to look at changes to their employment arrangements in light of this. Despite the unprecedented situation COVID-19 has created, employment law obligations continue, and we recommend seeking advice about practical options for action with employees to avoid the risk of claims.

Disclaimer: We remind you that while this article provides commentary on employment law and health and safety topics, it should not be used as a substitute for legal or professional advice for specific situations. Please seek legal advice from your lawyer for any questions specific to your workplace.

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