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Communication with staff

You should be checking with staff to see if they intend to go overseas on leave. The New Zealand government’s current advice with regard to coronavirus is that non-essential travel should be avoided. On the staff member’s return they should self-isolate for 14 days in much the same way as is now required for incoming passengers into Australia.

If an employer allows an employee to return to work within 14 days of their return to New Zealand they are likely to be in breach of their duty of care under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Can we tell our staff an employee has Coronavirus?

NO. While it is reasonable to advise employees that someone is off work because of illness, it has never been permissible for the employer to disclose the nature of an employee’s illness.

Sick leave – Weighing up your duties to protect your workforce against your workers right to work

If an employee has COVID-19 and comes to work, the employer is likely to be in breach of their Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 duty of care if they permit the employee to stay. The employee should be sent home.

Working from home might be an option. Naturally this will depend on how the employee is feeling as a complete and speedy recovery should be the primary objective. The employee will be entitled to their sick leave entitlements as agreed in the employment contract.

Your minimum obligations will be to pay any sick leave entitlement (if any).

As part of the government’s newly announced stimulus package the government will subsidise employees who are infected with coronavirus for the time that they are away from work sick once their paid sick leave runs out.

If an employee comes to the workplace after being told not to, they can be suspended from work however you should take professional advice from an employment adviser to ensure the correct steps are taken. If an employee does not follow these reasonable directions they are likely to be in breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.

Self isolation

The situation was tricky in the case of an employee being required to self-isolate, perhaps because they had just returned to New Zealand from overseas. As they are not “sick” they have no entitlement to standard sick leave. They are generally only entitled to sick leave if they (or a dependent) is ill.

Of course, if they have been advised to self-isolate, they cannot present themselves at the workplace and an employer cannot request them to come to work.

It’s quite possible that the employee doesn’t feel sick. In that case it might be practical for them to work from home and be paid as usual.

If the worker cannot carry out their work from home, yet are required to self-isolate, they will not, under current law, be entitled to paid sick leave.

However, as part of the government’s new stimulus package, wage subsidies will be available to pay employees to stay at home for the required 14 days self-isolation period when they are not entitled to sick leave. This will take significant pressure off New Zealand-based businesses.

Employees should not be allowed to come to the workplace or the employer is likely to be in breach of their Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 duty of care.

You can give us a call on 1300 791 600 for a quick chat.


The information in this article is indicative of NZ tax rules and changes and not intended to be complete for all intents or purposes and does not constitute advice. It is recommended that you obtain professional advice, suited to your particular circumstances, from us before acting on anything you read.