COVID 19 Update

COVID-19 Update – Friday 28 January

On 23 January 2022 New Zealand moved into the ‘red’ traffic light setting in an attempt to slow down the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 throughout the country. Although lockdowns will not be imposed the government has introduced more restrictions regarding workplaces, isolation periods, and mask-wearing.

What does red mean for your workplace?

The guidance around workplaces has changed since the traffic light system was first announced. The government initially recommended employees work from home but have changed this definition to allow workplaces to remain open with the option to work from home if the employer considers it appropriate for the role. This places more decision-making power with the employer to decide what is best for the business on a case-by-case basis and the ability to change tact as the environment worsens or improves.

Preparation is key

Many employers have already separated their teams into bubbles that are restricted to interaction with their bubble members only – this is appropriate for workplaces that are not office environments. Some office environment workplaces have split their workforce in two, requiring half their workforce to work from home and half their workforce to work in the office, rotating this weekly to reduce the likelihood that all employees are out of action at once.

Severe absenteeism & financial support

The isolation requirements vary at different levels of the recently introduced ‘phased approach’ which consists of three phases:

Phase 1: positive cases will be required to isolate for 14 days and close contacts for 10 days. However, for household close contacts will need to remain in isolation for 10 further days from the positive cases day 14 which would be a total of 24 days altogether.

Phase 2: positive cases will be required to isolate for 10 days and close contacts for 7 days. Critical workers who are asymptomatic will be able to return to work if they produce a negative rapid antigen test.

Phase 3: close contacts will only be defined as household contacts. The isolation period has not yet been defined for this phase.

Employers and employees alike may be worried about how they will manage to financially stay afloat when isolation measures may put them out of work for weeks. Below are some options to curb the financial burden when employees are self-isolating.

  • Use sick leave.
  • If sick leave is exhausted, the employer may like to provide ‘special leave’ however this may not be a financially viable option nor an option that an employer must engage in.
  • Apply for the COVID-19 Leave Support Scheme. Employees are eligible for this if they are sick with COVID-19 or have been told by officials to self-isolate and cannot work from home. The employer must apply for this subsidy which provides each eligible employee with $600 per week (full time employee) and $359 per week (part time employee). To be eligible for a one-week payment, employees need to be self-isolating for at least four consecutive calendar days. If the staff members need to keep self-isolating for at least 11 calendar days or more and can't work from home, the employer can apply for a second payment. A third payment is available for every further seven days of self-isolation.
  • If employees must isolate while waiting for a COVID-19 test result, the Short-Term Absence Payment is still available. Employees are eligible for this subsidy if they cannot work from home and must stay home while waiting for a test result. There is a one-off payment of $359 for each eligible worker. Employers can only apply for it once, for each eligible employee, in any 30-day period (unless a health official or doctor tells the employee to get another test).
  • Another option in addition to subsidies is to top these up with annual leave or sick leave. This must be discussed and agreed to between an employer and employee before doing so.

Face mask changes

At 11:59pm on Thursday 3 February, the following changes to face masks will come into force:

  • A face covering will need to be an actual mask and attached to the head by loops around the ears or head. This means scarves, bandannas, or t-shirts should not be used.
  • Workers who are mandated to be vaccinated will need to wear a medical grade mask when working in public facing roles. For example a Type IIR/Level 2 mask or above.
  • You will need to wear a mask at food and drink businesses, close-proximity businesses, and events and gatherings. You can take your mask off to eat, drink or exercise.
  • All primary and secondary school students Year 4 and up will need to wear a face mask on public transport and Ministry of Education funded school transport services.

Disclaimer: this information is current as of 28 January 2022 and may be subject to change.

Please contact a consultant at EQ Consultants for more guidance.

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