On 11 May Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that New Zealand will move to Alert Level 2 from midnight Wednesday 13 May.

This guidance is provided to assist agencies with workforce matters as they move from Alert Level 3 to Alert Level 2. Guidance on the health and safety and workplace considerations for moving alert levels is available from the Government Health and Safety Lead and Government Property Group.

These guidelines will be updated as further decisions are made. Always check the website for the latest version.

These guidelines reflect that at Alert Level 2 employees can work in the workplace if they can do so safely with a general requirement for physical distancing of one metre at work. These guidelines contain advice on how this and the other general requirements of Alert Level 2 might be applied.

Agencies providing essential services have made significant accommodations to meet Alert Level 4 and 3 requirements and have further strengthened health and safety controls within their environments. This will facilitate safety at work for increased numbers of workers under Alert level 2. Other workplaces have used the time under Alert Level 3 to prepare for meeting Alert level 2 requirements and a return to work for significantly more employees.

It is important that agencies find the right balance between allowing the significant opening up of activity envisaged by Alert Level 2 and addressing the need to keep staff and others safe in the workplace as they do this.

Key principles to guide the move to Alert Level 2

Agencies must meet Alert Level 2, WorkSafe and public health requirements. Agencies must adhere to legislative and government requirements, including implementing controls and measures to meet Alert Level 2 standards for workplaces, such as a general requirement for physical distancing of one metre in the workplace, hygiene practices, contact tracing.

Return to the workplace should be managed gradually. Under Alert Level 2 people are no longer told to work from home if they can. More workers will return to workplaces. Where employees are returning to the workplace, this should be managed gradually. This will allow agencies time to test and put health and safety controls in place and check they are working. It also helps people feel more secure about returning to the workplace.

Consider prioritising the return to the workplace of those employees who have not been working due to not being able to work from home. This will reduce the incidence of staff not being able to work and requiring special paid leave.

Alternative ways of working are encouraged where practicable. Under Alert Level 2 alternative ways of working are encouraged, such as remote working, shift-based working, rotation of staff, staggering meal breaks and flexible leave. This will provide greater flexibility with a gradual return of staff to the workplace.

Staff wellbeing remains a priority. Staff should be supported in returning to the workplace. Workplaces will need to be arranged to enable safe physical distancing. Some staff may be concerned about getting to work on public transport, so temporary changes of start and finish times or work location may assist these staff. Employees who are a higher risk from COVID-19 are encouraged to take additional precautions when leaving home. However they may work in the workplace where they agree it is safe to do so.

Support for staff working from home. As agencies will continue to have at least some staff working from home for a time, ensure you continue to support the wellbeing, health and safety of those staff, as well as managing information security and privacy factors.

Regular communication, particularly engagement with staff and unions. This is a priority for all agencies. This includes involvement in planning, communicating how you will keep people in the workplace safe and making sure everyone knows what’s required of them. Ensure staff are provided opportunities to raise concerns and provide feedback.

Key changes at Alert Level 2

  • Workplaces are open where they can be operated safely within the controls and measures to meet Alert Level 2 standards.
  • There is no longer a requirement that all those who can work from home do so although alternative ways of working are encouraged where practicable.
  • As work can be undertaken at the workplace or at home, the presumption is that all employees are working unless on agreed leave.
  • Paid special leave remains available where work cannot be provided for an employee either in the workplace or at home, for example where an employee is self-isolating and is unable to work from home.
  • Vulnerable employees are encouraged to take additional precautions when leaving home. However, they can agree with their employer arrangements to work in the workplace safely.
  • Agencies may ask employees to use accumulated Time Off In Lieu (TOIL) balances or Alternative Holidays in line with employment agreements or policies.
  • Agencies can begin managing high leave balances. However employers should not direct employees to take annual leave if there are limited opportunities for rest and recreation activities.
  • Schools and early learning centres are open, and employees are expected to resume their usual childcare arrangements. Some flexibility may be required if all usual childcare options are not available.
  • Safe inter-regional travel is permitted.

What doesn’t change

  • If an employee is required to self-isolate, or care for a dependant who is required to self-isolate, they should work from home wherever possible. Special paid leave is available if working from home is not possible.
  • If a school or early learning centre is closed or has limited access, special paid leave may be required in some circumstances. For example, where an employee cannot find alternative care arrangements and is unable to work from home.
  • There are some limitations on public transport so employees may require flexible working arrangements to accommodate those limitations such as different start /finish times, different work location and/or rotating days in the office and working from home.

General advice

  • Chief executives should lead with a strong message that the State services have always had a duty in times of national emergency to maintain government services.
  • Public services should continue to be delivered to the fullest extent possible to meet legislative requirements and public expectations.
  • Planning for all stages of the pandemic should address how essential services are maintained, and the possibility of workplace closure. This includes reducing or minimising risks of contagion to people in the workplace and ensuring the wellbeing of employees.
  • Business continuity plans must be up-to -date and cater for scenarios arising from Ministry of Health-directed measures such as quarantine and compulsory self-isolation.
  • Where appropriate, employers should engage unions early in the development of their pandemic planning, updates and any emerging employment issues.
  • Employees are expected to continue to attend the workplace in line with their usual employment arrangements, except where alternatives are activated as part of a business continuity or workforce management plan.
  • Employees are expected to remain working during a pandemic, in line with public health guidance, unless they are on agreed leave.

Employers should keep good employer practice in mind and do whatever they practicably can to enable people in the workplace to stay safe. This is likely to involve redesigning the way workers do their jobs and work with others, thereby ensuring that the latest public health advice is actioned.

Employees’ mental health and wellbeing is also an important consideration. Guidance for mental health and wellbeing in relation to COVID-19 can be found on the Mental Health Foundation website.

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