With Omicron at our doorstep, it is inevitable that New Zealand will be facing far higher levels of COVID-19 in the community this year. In the absence of full lockdowns, we anticipate that a lot more COVID-19 will make its way into workplaces.
Businesses and organisations that have already faced sudden closures, deep cleans, infected employees, and employees being required to self-isolate as a result of being a close contact with an infected person, will have experienced first-hand the disruptions these can cause, at human resource and business interruption levels.
What can you do to prepare for businesses and organisations that have not yet experienced this? Of course, maintaining social distancing and mask-wearing is key, along with ensuring employees who are not feeling well do not come into work. We recommend having policies in place around this, monitoring compliance, and ensuring management lead by example.
What else can employers be doing now to prepare and lessen the blow infections will have on the workplace?
Here are some ideas:
Government Support Package
We recommend getting familiar with the Government’s COVID-19 short-term absence payment and leave support schemes. These can assist in lessening the financial blow of staff absences – but remember, they do not replace contractual obligations in terms of rates of pay, including when employees are taking leave, unless such amendments are expressly agreed with the employee/s in question.
For businesses that can, operating with staff teams working on alternate days/times of the day is a sensible way to manage human resourcing requirements. This is easier where rosters are already in use, or where staff only need access to offices for part of the day but can otherwise work remotely. We have seen employers work with their staff creatively to find team approaches that are not always obvious – but are a great idea where cases arise and one team needs to self-isolate. In short, the other team/s can continue to run the business on the ground, even if there is a slightly reduced capacity.
Working from home
Most businesses that can operate remotely have already worked out systems to do so. But are they working? Is now the time to re-draft policies to iron out issues that have occurred with these arrangements to date? Some issues we have seen include staff working from home more than they need to/employers want, concerns around contact during working hours, and ensuring staff are avoiding the fatigue that may arise by virtue of living and working in the same space. Now is an excellent time to reflect and update policies.
Again, for remote-capable businesses, how has your technology fared with remote working to date? Is it time for new laptops? Are you already operating “on the cloud”, or should you be looking into a move to allow for easier remote access and sharing and retention of documents/work? Have staff struggled with their at-home office setups? Perhaps there is a bulk supplier of ergonomic furniture that you could consider ordering from, either for your staff or with their agreement, through staff contributions where staff can enjoy the benefit of a bulk ordering discount.
Have you considered contacting and building relationships with the types of providers you might need in the case of a sudden closure? Think cleaners who can perform a deep clean on short notice, remote IT providers, couriers, the list goes on. Building relationships now may get you to the front of the queue, and allow you to explore and compare pricing structures for if/when you need them.
How have your staff coped to date with COVID-19 and its stressors and disruptions? Have you got EAP in place? Is there a member of management tasked with checking in on staff who are working remotely, or unable to work at all, to see how they are doing and whether any support is needed? In the context of a possible “ great resignation”, something as simple as checking in with staff regularly helps to maintain relationships and remind your team that they matter. Reduced turnover is ideal in the current climate where employers across a broad range of industries struggle to recruit suitable staff.
For more information
Plenty of these measures may already be in place due to the Alert Level systems – but is it time for a re-fresh? Can you pre-emptively troubleshoot any hiccups that occurred last time around?
If you would like to explore options or require help implementing changes, feel free to get in touch with our employment law experts on 04 472 0020.