COVID-19 restrictions

Did your business implement any COVID-19 policies during the pandemic?

With the remaining restrictions removed on 15 August 2023, it’s a good time to review these policies and ensure they are still fit for purpose. Read our advice on how to do this, and how to manage staff leave for COVID-19 related illness going forward.

What are the updated changes to COVID-19 restrictions?

From 15 August 2023, there is no longer a legal requirement for people to isolate when they test positive for COVID-19.

What does this mean?

The end of the last remaining COVID restrictions means that if your employees test positive, there is no longer the requirement to stay at home. Although you can’t force employees not to come to work, you should support employees to isolate for the recommended 5 days. Having a worker come to work while sick could put the health of themselves and others at risk, and result in further disruption to normal business operations.

If you have an employee who tests positive for COVID, the same principles apply as they would with any other winter illness, you should encourage your employees to advise their manager if they test positive for COVID-19 and to be considerate during the period they think they could be infectious.

Note: Eligibility for the Leave Support Scheme ended on 15 August 2023. You can’t apply for anyone who started self-isolation after 13 August 2023.

COVID-19 / Sick Leave Policies 

With this change announced, it may be a good time to review any policies that you implemented during the pandemic. As with any other policy or process in the workplace, we would recommend consulting with employees and unions before any changes are finalised.  

It would be considered best practice to advise your employees of this change and what it means for your workplace. Although they are no longer required to isolate for seven days if they test positive for the virus, it is important to remind your employees to be considerate and apply common sense during this period to keep others safe and ensure business continuity.  

Sick leave

Employees who are sick with COVID-19 should use their sick leave entitlement. If they don’t have any sick leave left, or are not yet entitled to sick leave, you could: 

  • Agree for them to take other leave such as annual leave or unpaid leave
  • Allow them to take sick leave in advance
  • Provide paid special leave

Planning and Preparation

One of the best ways to keep you and your team safe and well throughout winter is by providing a work environment that takes preventive action to reduce the spread of bugs.

Our ideas on actions you can take include:

  • Provide appropriate sanitary items such as tissues, no-touch rubbish bins, hospital grade hand soap and hand sanitiser.
  • create a regular cleaning and sanitisation plan for your store of frequent touch points (door handles, eftpos machines, phones) and common areas.
  • Consider offering staff funding for, or time off to enable them to get the yearly flu vaccination.
  • Hang signage in common areas reminding people about good hygiene practices.
  • Encouraging social distancing in your store.
  • Ensure people stay home if unwell.

Spending some time planning and implementing the appropriate tools and processes (taking a ‘ambulance at the top of the cliff’ approach) will go a long way toward minimising business disruption this winter. 

Further advice on current COVID-19 guidelines: 

FAQs for reviewing COVID-19 policies

In order to keep any policy related to managing the risk of Covid in place, a business must identify that the current risk of contracting and/or transmitting COVID-19 at their workplace is higher than it is out in the community (healthcare settings, supermarket, schools etc). Examples of COVID-19 policies could include, but are not limited to, workplace RAT testing, vaccination mandates, mask wearing instore etc. 

You need to complete a new risk assessment for your organisation, which must be completed in consultation with all staff.

Current public health advice must be considered as part of the risk assessment, and all of these factors need to be considered separately for each role within your organisation:

  • Is there a greater risk of the worker being exposed to new variants at work than they would be in the community?  
  • Does the worker regularly interact with people who are less likely to be vaccinated against COVID-19?
  • Does the worker work in a confined indoor space (of less than 100m2) and involve close and sustained interactions with others (i.e., closer than 1m distance, for periods of more than 15 continuous minutes)?

In deciding what controls to implement, employers will need to consider what is reasonably practicable. Employers should first consider the controls that are the least intrusive to employees. Other controls could include:

  • Providing appropriate sanitary items such as tissues, no-touch rubbish bins, hand soap and hand sanitiser
  • Creating a regular cleaning and sanitisation plan for their store of frequent touch points (door handles, Eftpos machines, phones) and common areas
  • Encouraging staff to get Covid / flu vaccines, consider providing funding or time off to enable them to get them
  • Hanging signage in common areas reminding people about good hygiene practices
  • Encouraging social distancing in your store and reviewing store layout to ensure social distancing is possible
  • Ensuring people stay home if unwell
  • Reviewing and improving ventilation systems in store

Employers must have a legitimate need to know a potential employee’s vaccination status in order to ask them for that information. The role you are looking to fill must have been identified as high risk of catching and transmitting Covid (as above, higher than the risk the worker would face out in the community), or where the information is material to an organisation’s health and safety plan.

Mandating regular Covid testing would be considered a change or addition to an employee’s original terms and conditions of employment. In order to require this, you would need to be confident that your current risk profile still requires it, and that you aren’t able to implement other (less invasive) controls to manage the identified risk. You need to consult with impacted staff, and thoroughly consider their feedback prior to implementing this requirement.

Even though mask mandates have been removed (aside from in healthcare settings including doctors’ clinics, pharmacies — but not those inside supermarkets, hospitals, dentists, residential care facilities) some places such as workplaces, stores or special events may ask people to wear a mask as a condition of entry. In order to require this, you need to be confident that your current risk profile still requires it, and that you aren’t able to implement other controls to manage the identified risk. 

If you are considering requiring mask wearing for your employees, you need to first consult with the impacted staff, and thoroughly consider their feedback, in addition to your risk assessment prior to implementing the requirement.

There are a number of reasons why people are still choosing to wear masks in the community, and we encourage everyone to be supportive and understanding of this, as it may be that they have been recently unwell or have an immune comprised family member at home that they are trying to keep well.

Principle 9 of the Privacy Act 2020 states organisations should not keep personal information any longer than required.

Information collected for the purpose of determining whether a person is vaccinated is protected by section 34B of the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020 and can only be used for the purposes of the COVID-19 response.  In particular, the employer can only hold, store, use or disclose the information for the purpose of:

  1. Ascertaining that the individual is vaccinated;
  2. Demonstrating or ascertaining compliance with the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020 or a COVID-19 Order;
  3. Enforcing the Act or Order; or
  4. The Health Act.

We advise regularly reviewing what personal information your organisation is holding on file and checking whether you still need to collect and keep it, and if not, securely destroying it. 

For example if you implemented a vaccine mandate, and have now undertaken a risk assessment and deem this is no longer required – you must no longer keep vaccination records on file, appropriately delete or destroy them, and inform your team that you have deleted these records.

This will include information you have collected from visitors for contact tracing.

Did you know that as a member of Retail NZ, you get unlimited access to our Advice Service and variety of resources, which can guide you in staying updated about the current COVID-19 restrictions and sick leave policies, ensuring you meet all of your obligations. Check out our other member benefits, and how to join here

If you have any questions or would like help understanding the current COVID-19 guidelines, get in touch with our Advice Service on 0800 472 472 (1800 128 086 from Australia) or email [email protected].

Updated January 2024.

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