ALERT LEVEL 2: Workplaces are open and operating safely

At Alert Level 2 all businesses and workplaces can open with some restrictions, including physical distancing, use of face coverings and record keeping. The Delta variant means the rules for Alert Level 2 have been strengthened from last time.

Always refer to covid19.govt.nz for more information on Alert Level 2.

Health, safety and wellbeing in the workplace

Agencies need to ensure that workplaces are operating according to Alert Level 2 requirements.  This may mean Alert Level 3 working arrangements continue for a short time while agencies plan a careful and progressive return to the usual place of work.  This should include considering the required working arrangements and workplace configuration to meet safe operating requirements. Agencies must ensure that the workplace configuration supports adherence to the physical distancing, face covering and record keeping rules.

Given the strengthened rules at Alert Level 2, safe operation may be different to previous times at Alert Level 2. Where necessary, consider alternative arrangements such as working from home, establishing work bubbles, or having alternative start and finish times. Be aware of any reductions in public transport services – having different groups of workers starting and finishing at different set times would be helpful.

Consider incorporating working bubbles in your business continuity planning to minimise the impact should there be a COVID-19 case or contact in the workplace.

Agencies should conduct their own risk assessments and engage with unions and workers to determine the most appropriate measures across different work sites and operations. Collaborate with other occupants where premises are shared.

Staff may have differing attitudes about being in the workplace and there may be some anxiety about how safe the workplace can be, so:

  • Communicate clearly and often with staff
  • Engage worker health and safety representatives and union delegates in planning and communications
  • Ensure EAP is accessible.

Safe operating measures in the workplace include:

  • Ensuring physical distancing requirements are met – one metre between workers of the agency in the workplace, and two metres for other people on the premises (including visitors from other public sector agencies)
  • Displaying a government issued QR code for use with the NZ COVID Tracer App
  • Keeping a record of everyone 12 years and over who enters the premises where required.
  • Maintaining enhanced cleaning of workplaces and equipment
  • Provision and promotion of personal hygiene and cleaning equipment e.g. hand sanitiser and surface cleansers
  • Provision of face coverings in the workplace where their use is required
  • Provision of required personal protective equipment (PPE) if required by Ministry of Health guidance for Alert Level 2
  • Strongly encouraging face coverings in all situations where physical distancing is difficult, noting that face coverings are mandatory in some situations
  • Reviewing unassigned workstation arrangements to support strong hygiene practices and meet health and safety obligations.

For further information refer to WorkSafe NZ guidance, the Government Health and Safety Lead’s guidance to agencies and their employee resource on reducing the spread of COVID-19.

Agencies should continue to promote general public health advice: wear a face covering at all times when out and about; regularly disinfect surfaces; wash and dry hands, cough into elbow; if you’re sick, stay home, don’t go to work or school, don’t socialise; if you have cold or flu symptoms call your doctor or Healthline and get tested.

Vulnerable employees may work in the workplace if they agree with their employer that they can do so safely. Working from home should be available where possible.

If a vulnerable employee does not agree arrangements with their employer to work safely in the workplace, employers should:

  • take a health and safety risk-based approach to understand and investigate the concerns of their employee in good faith
  • consider the risk to the employee, those in their household, and other people in the workplace
  • determine an appropriate response in line with employer and employee duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 and public health advice from the Ministry of Health.

If the parties cannot agree, the employer should treat the situation as a work from home request, generously applying the employer’s policy, and agree the employee works remotely wherever practicable.

Where it is not possible for an employee to work remotely, the employer should try to address the employee’s concerns as far as possible and ask the employee to attend work or agree a leave arrangement such as annual leave or unpaid special leave.

Face coverings

You are encouraged to wear a face covering at all times when you leave your home.

Face coverings are legally required to be worn in the public areas of courts and tribunals, local and central Government agencies, and social service providers with a customer service counter.

Face coverings are also legally required at arrival and departure points for public transport services, in taxis and on public transport and flights throughout New Zealand.

Agencies should do a health and safety assessment to determine whether there are other circumstances where face coverings must be worn in the workplace for health and safety reasons, e.g. two or more workers in a fleet car where physical distancing is difficult.

Agencies must provide face coverings in circumstances where their use is required in the workplace.

Encourage the use of face coverings in the workplace where physical distancing is difficult. Workers may choose to wear a face covering in the workplace even if not legally required. Agencies should support this and respect individual choice and circumstances.

If an employee who is required to wear a face covering does not do so, in the first instance consider alternative duties they can perform without one. If that is not practicable then instruct the employee to wear a face covering. If they continue not to wear a face covering, apply usual agency practice where an employee refuses a lawful instruction.

Contact record keeping

A record keeping rule comes into force on 7 September 2021 for certain businesses and services operating at Alert Level 2. For those businesses and services it is mandatory to have systems and processes in place to ensure that people entering a workplace scan the QR code or provide a contact record.

All agencies should ensure they have systems in place for record keeping and QR scanning for all visitors to their workplaces.

Agencies must ensure that privacy and safety of individuals are protected. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner has provided guidance on mandatory record keeping for contact tracing.

Travel within Alert Level areas

At Alert Level 2, you can travel, but make sure you do it in a safe way:

  • Do not travel to events that do not meet the requirements for gatherings at Alert Level 2.
  • If you're unwell, stay at home.
  • Keep track of who you have been in contact with.
  • Practise good hygiene habits.
  • Do not travel if you have been asked to self-isolate.

Travel across Alert Level boundaries

Business and work travel across the Alert Level 4 and 2 boundary is strictly limited to stop the spread of the virus. Agencies must have systems and processes in place, so far as is reasonably practicable, to minimise travel of workers between regions or alert level areas. Risks of spreading COVID-19 that arise from such travel must be mitigated.

Workers, unless exempted under the Public Health Response Order, who travel across an alert level boundary must have had a COVID-19 test within the previous seven days and carry evidence of this with them when crossing the boundary.  Agencies must have systems in place to enable this requirement to be met.

Agencies must provide any worker who is required to travel across an alert level boundary with acceptable evidence that they are permitted to cross the boundary.

A Business Travel Document issued by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) is the preferred type of evidence. The MBIE website provides details of how to get Business Travel Documentation. Alternatively agencies can provide a letter stating the worker is providing an Alert Level 4 business or service, along with evidence of the destination the worker is travelling to.

Agencies must ensure that workers driving across alert level boundaries have the required evidence and carry their photo driver’s licence or other photo identification.

International travel

Updates on international travel advice is provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Immigration New Zealand.

Maximising delivery of services

To maintain delivery of services it may be necessary during all alert levels for some employees to cover work usually performed by other employees that is not within the scope of their role. Express agreement may be needed to do this.

As part of the planning process employers should adopt and promote an approach to employees voluntarily agreeing to temporarily change work functions, location and/or hours of work. This should include engagement with relevant unions. Where employment agreements allow flexibility in the type, location and hours of work, employers should work with their employees and unions to maximise any opportunities.

Agencies with lower priority functions should consider exploring where their employees may be able to assist priority service delivery by other agencies. These employees could agree to cover priority service delivery or be on call for others who may become unable to work. See the COVID-19 Workforce Mobility Guidance for State Services Agencies for further information.

Paid special leave for employees unable to work from home or in the workplace

Those employees unable to work from home should be prioritised for continuing to work in the workplace.

For employees who cannot be accommodated safely in the workplace and cannot work from home, paid special leave should be given, paid at normal rates.

Employees required to self-isolate (or must care for a dependant who is required to self- isolate) and are unable to work from home should receive paid special leave, paid at normal rates for time not working.

Access to and payment of special leave for casual employees

Casual employees should be managed as per agency policies and employment agreements.

Self-isolation

At all alert levels self-isolation is required for people who display COVID-19 related symptoms, test positive for COVID-19, or have been in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19. Mandatory quarantine/managed isolation is required for those who have been overseas in the last 14 days.

In some circumstances other contacts may also be required to self-isolate while waiting the result of a COVID-19 test. Check the Ministry of Health website for details.

Where an employee is required to self-isolate (or must care for a dependant who is required to self- isolate) they must not come into work and should work from home to the extent possible.

Where it is not possible for an employee to work from home, or to cover periods of unavailability for work, employees should receive paid special leave, paid at normal rates.

If an employee becomes ill with COVID-19 while in self-isolation, sick leave should be used. If the employee has insufficient sick leave the employee may receive additional discretionary leave/paid special leave so that they continue to be paid

If an employee wishes to self-isolate when public health advice does not require this, employers should:

  • take a health and safety risk-based approach to understand and investigate the concerns of their employee in good faith
  • consider the risks to the employee, those in their household or ‘bubble’ and to other people in the workplace
  • determine an appropriate response in line with employer and employee duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 and public health advice from the Ministry of Health.

If the parties agree that the employee should self-isolate based on public health guidelines and health and safety advice, the provisions above apply.

If the employer does not agree the employee should self-isolate, employers should treat the situation as a work from home request, generously applying the employer’s policy, and agree the employee works remotely wherever practicable.

Where it is not possible for an employee to work remotely, the employer should try to address the employee’s concerns as far as possible and ask the employee to attend work or agree a leave arrangement such as annual leave or unpaid special leave.

Sick/dependant leave

Employees may be unable to work due to COVID-19 related sickness or a requirement to care for dependants who are similarly unwell. In these circumstances:

  • Sick or dependant leave should be used, and payment should be in line with usual agency practice.
  • If the employee has insufficient sick leave, they may receive additional discretionary leave/paid special leave so they can continue to be paid.

Employees may be unable to work, or only partially available to work if they need to care for a dependant whose usual care is unavailable or who is not sick but may require some care due to COVID-19 related reasons:

  • Employees should work to the extent possible, including from home.
  • Where it is not possible for an employee to work from home, and to cover periods of unavailability for work, dependant leave (or equivalent) if applicable should be used. Dependant leave (or equivalent) or paid special leave is paid as per normal agency practice.

If the employee has insufficient dependant leave, or dependant leave is only available in relation to sickness, they may receive additional discretionary leave/paid special leave so they can continue to be paid.

Annual leave

Employers should not direct employees to utilise annual leave if there are limited opportunities for rest and recreation activities.

Employees may request annual leave as per normal processes. Employees should advise their employer if a pre-approved annual leave request or new request involves travel overseas. Employers should ask employees requesting leave if they intend to travel overseas during their leave.

Travel

Employers and employees should refer to regional travel requirements for Alert Level 2 and updates on international travel advice provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Immigration New Zealand.

If, for any reason, an employee requesting annual leave intends to travel overseas or to a restricted region within New Zealand contrary to public health advice, the employer and employee should discuss and agree how any required period of self-isolation or quarantine on return from leave should apply. In the first instance for any period of self-isolation, where practicable, the employee should work from home. If working from home is not practicable other forms of leave should be considered such as annual leave or special leave without pay.

If agreement cannot be reached between the employer and the employee, then the period of self-isolation will be unpaid leave.

Use of TOIL, alternative holidays and shift leave

TOIL, alternative holidays and shift leave accrual and use should be managed as per agency policies and employment agreements.

For example, as part of a planned return to the workplace consideration should be given to asking employees to use accumulated TOIL or alternative holidays to cover periods before the workplace becomes fully accessible.

Public holiday payment

At all alert levels public holidays should be paid according to the Holidays Act or the employment agreement.

School closure impacting on ability to work

Schools and early learning centres are open from 8 September 2021.

If a dependant’s school or early learning centre is closed temporarily due to COVID-19 and the employee cannot arrange alternative supervision, the employee should work from home as much as possible. Where the employee cannot work from home, or is only partially available for work, special paid leave should be given for time not working.

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