With cases of the CONVID-19 virus having now been confirmed in New Zealand, and some travellers returning from overseas being urged to self-isolate, employers should be thinking about their strategies to address this threat, and/or any other future incidences like this, and their obligations as an employer.
If a worker is off work because of the risk of the coronavirus, but does not actually have the virus, the employee (generally) is not entitled to be paid sick leave. However, some employers may agree to recognise this as sick leave in the circumstances.
If an employee is ready, willing and able to work, an employer cannot direct the employee to take sick leave as per the Holidays Act. However under the Health and Safety at Work Act, an employer can be entitled to direct that the employee does not come in to work. In such an instance of the employee being ready, willing and able to work, the employee is entitled to be paid. Depending on the severity of the situation, the employer may be able to rely on a ‘force majeure’ clause in an employment agreement. A ‘force majeure’ clause refers to a natural disaster or unexpected event that prevents a business from running, therefore this may release the employer from their obligations to pay the employee.
Further, if an employee is compulsorily quarantined, the employee is not ready, willing and able to work. Whist this means that the employee is not entitled to be paid, the employer must consider other options, such as working from home, different hours and the employee using other entitlements.
The Ministry of Health is your go-to for the latest health information and advice on the coronavirus epidemic (https://bit.ly/3aUJCKQ), but if you want help on the policy and contractual obligations side of things, or designing an employment agreement to address these threats, we can help. If you have any questions, get in touch.