updated 24th February, 2020
In January 2020, Chinese authorities confirmed a new type of coronavirus, known as 2019-nCoV. The World Health Organization has declared a global health emergency as a result of the coronavirus outbreak which has now spread well beyond China, where it first emerged.
The outbreak has caused significant concerns for many of our members and while there are currently no confirmed cases in New Zealand, contingency planning is appropriate under the circumstances. This article seeks to provide some general guidance, however, members can also contact our Helpline on 0800 737 827 with specific questions.
- Government response / travel restrictions
- General health advice
- Employment / business advice
- Other business considerations
- Advice from Immigration New Zealand regarding visa applications
Government response / travel restrictions:
In response to growing concerns about the spread of the virus, the New Zealand Government has placed temporary entry restrictions into New Zealand on all foreign nationals travelling from, or transiting through mainland China to assist with the containment of the novel coronavirus and to protect New Zealand and the Pacific Islands from the disease.
The New Zealand Government has closed the border to all foreign travelers who have left or transited through mainland China over the previous 14 days. This measure does not apply to flights to and from Hong Kong at this time. The decision to restrict travel will be reviewed every 48 hours and is currently in place until Monday 24th February. The Government will decide on or before 24 February whether the travel restrictions need to remain in place.
The decision to refuse entry does not apply to New Zealand citizens, permanent residents and their immediate family, who will still be able to come to New Zealand. However, they will be required to self-isolate for 14 days on arrival back in the country. Australian citizens and permanent residents are also excluded if they ordinarily reside in New Zealand. The Ministry of Health have guidance for self-isolation: https://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/diseases-and-conditions/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov/novel-coronavirus-self-isolation
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has also raised its travel advice to New Zealanders for all of mainland China to “Do not travel”, the highest level.
General health advice:
The Ministry of Health is closely monitoring the situation and following guidance from the World Health Organization (who have declared the outbreak a global health emergency). There are no confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV in New Zealand to date but the likelihood of importing a case is high.However, the likelihood of a widespread outbreak remains low.
The Ministry of Health website is your best source of information about the Coronavirus. This includes information on the current status in New Zealand, the signs and symptoms of the virus and history on the outbreak: https://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/diseases-and-conditions/novel-coronavirus-china-2019-ncov.
For any coronavirus health advice and information and any questions you have about coronavirus, the Ministry of Health have established a dedicated 0800 number for health advice and information. The number is 0800 358 5453 – it is free and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
Up-to-date information is also available from the World Health Organization (WHO):
- Questions and answers https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses
- Emergency preparedness, response https://www.who.int/csr/don/en/
- WHO Twitter account https://twitter.com/WHO
- Advice for international travel https://www.who.int/ith/2020-0901_outbreak_of_Pneumonia_caused_by_a_new_coronavirus_in_C/en/
Employment / business advice:
Unfortunately, the legal and practical issues associated with coronavirus and employment are not straightforward. Employers must try to find a balance between taking reasonable precautionary measures and being prepared for further developments. There are issues around payment entitlements for employees and types of leave, paid or unpaid.
What you can do now:
- Consider introducing additional hygiene measures, such as providing hand sanitisers at all wash stations, counters, customer service areas and the entrances to your premises.
- Remind staff and customers that no discrimination will be tolerated and no one will be treated differently due to nationality or religion. Ensure employees are aware that any such behaviour will not be tolerated.
- Reassure staff and provide information if they request it.
- Make sure there is a clear point of contact for the employees if there are any sudden developments due to the virus spreading.
- Employees have a right under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 to refuse work if they consider their workplace to be unsafe, so ensure that you do all that is reasonably within your control to create a safe workplace.
- Record any agreements made with employees in writing.
- Consider these issues and the questions below and what your response might be, bearing in mind that this situation is likely to evolve over time.
At this point employers must try to find a balance between taking balanced precautionary measures and being prepared for further developments. Employers should act inline with the overarching obligation of good faith when making decisions on how to deal with individual circumstances. Most employers will want to do the best by their employees, and assist them where possible.
Here is a brief update and some responses to questions members may have:
What if someone is feeling unwell? Encourage employees to take sick leave if they are feeling unwell. Consider developing an emergency policy that increases sick leave entitlement during the pandemic, should that become necessary.
What if an employee self isolates for 14 days after a visit to China? It is advisable to have a discussion with any employees in self isolation and reach a reasonable arrangement. This may include the employee/s taking a combination of leave types. If practicable, an alternative arrangement may be to facilitate the employee working from home during this period, however this is likely to be impractical for most of our Members. Please note there is no provision in the Holidays Act allowing an employer to force an employee to take their accrued sick or annual leave.
Can an employer require an employee to stay away? In general terms, if an employee is ready, willing and able to work, the employer is obliged to provide the employee with work. However, an employer may want an employee who is suspected of having come into contact with coronavirus to stay away from work, so as not to pose a risk to others in the workplace and may potentially be obliged under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA) to direct that the employee not come in to work. If there is a risk of general infection, or if the workplace is unable to function effectively due to employee absences, an employer may also be justified in closing down the workplace altogether. Additionally, employees are required to comply with any reasonable instruction given to them by the employer. Given this, requiring a high-risk employee to self isolate from the workplace, depending on the circumstances, may be considered a “reasonable instruction”. Generally speaking if it is the employer deciding that the employee must stay away, the employee may be entitled to be paid so long as the employee is ready, willing and able to work.
What if the employee is compulsorily quarantined? In these circumstances, the employee is not ready, willing and able to work and may not entitled to be paid. However, before an employer decides not to pay, it will need to consider other options, such as working from home, working different hours or taking other measures to avoid personal contact. The employer and employee may also agree to the employee using other entitlements, such as sick leave or annual holidays.
Can an employee refuse to attend work? Under the HSWA, employees can refuse to work if they have reasonable grounds to believe that the work they are required to perform is likely to cause them serious harm. An employee may also have a broader right to refuse to attend work where the employee has a reasonable fear of contracting coronavirus in the workplace.
Either way, employees will be obliged to discuss such an issue with their employer, and they may be able to find other solutions. If an employee refuses to attend work, the employer may not be obliged to pay the employee unless the employer is at fault in some way. For example, if the employer allows an evidently infected employee to continue working with a risk of infecting others in the workplace, as this would not be compliant with the HSWA.
Does an employee have to be paid if they are voluntarily staying away from work? Some employees may want to voluntarily remain at home due to a risk of exposure to the virus, and not wanting to run the risk of infecting others.
It is possible that the employer does not have any obligation to pay the employee. However, if an employer does not elect to reach an agreement whereby the employee is paid for such an absence, the employee may feel that they have to attend work after all. Employers should ensure they have a clear understanding of the extent of the risk that may be posed by that employee attending work, considering its obligations to other people in the workplace who may be impacted.
Can employers require employees to undergo medical testing? In short, no – employees must consent to medical testing. An employer could be justified in requiring an employee to stay home, if he or she refused to take a test to confirm infection, where there was a reasonable chance of that having occurred
What if the business is quiet because of the virus outbreak and I have to temporarily reduce hours for employees? Review your employment agreements for clauses that deal with such a situation, such as an “Interruption of Employment” clause and consider what action you might take. Communicate with your staff and consult with them in good faith to discuss any potential variations and act in accordance with the terms of their employment agreements.
Members are encouraged to call the Restaurant Association Helpline on 0800 737 827 for advice on managing the current situation, or planning for the future, in your business.
Other business considerations:
Westpac support for coronavirus affected customers: Westpac NZ is offering support to customers financially affected by the global outbreak of coronavirus. The relief package features a range of possible support options for both business and personal customers. These may include:
- A temporary overdraft facility;
- Suspension of principal loan payments for up to three months;
- Deferred payment on business credit cards for up to three months.
Customers requiring access to term deposit funds should also get in touch to discuss options.
Anyone who has been affected should call Westpac on 0800 606 606 to discuss their individual needs or drop into a branch in person. Westpac have also prepared an economic update forecasting the economic impact of coronavirus on New Zealand. View it here.
Insurance: Unfortunately standard business insurance offered by local and offshore insurers usually have a specific policy exclusion called “Infectious / Contagious Disease” which means that any loss or damage or business interruption loss in connection with a notifiable infectious disease is specifically not covered. Some exceptions include travel insurance where the policy was in place prior to public notification. Check with your insurer if you need clarification.
Worksafe have prepared some advice on workplace readiness for novel coronavirus: https://worksafe.govt.nz/topic-and-industry/work-related-health/workplace-preparedness-for-novel-coronavirus/
Advice from Immigration New Zealand regarding visa applications:
Immigration New Zealandunderstand visa applicants and current visa holders may have some questions about their specific circumstances. Below is some information around work visas that may address your concerns. Further FAQ’s for other visa types are available on the INZ website. These FAQ’s will be updated on the website as more information becomes available at the following link – https://www.immigration.govt.nz/about-us/media-centre/news-notifications/coronavirus-update-inz-response
INZ Frequently Asked Questions:
I have an employee who is in New Zealand on a visa that is about to expire, but they can’t go back to their home country due to the travel restrictions. We are sympathetic to individuals who are currently in New Zealand and are unable to return to their home country due to the coronavirus outbreak and current travel restrictions. We encourage anyone in that situation to contact INZ to discuss their options.
INZ is currently looking at options to facilitate these individuals. However, if an individual’s visa is about to expire, they are able to apply for a further visa, which will be assessed on a case by case basis, taking into account the current coronavirus outbreak and any relevant travel restrictions.
I have an employee who has been granted a work visa but can no longer travel to New Zealand because they left or transited mainland China after 2 February 2020. Individuals who have been granted a work visa or have travelled back to China on a holiday will not be able to travel to New Zealand until the travel ban is lifted by the New Zealand Government.
Can individuals who have been granted a work visa get a refund for their visa if they’re not able to travel to New Zealand due to the travel restrictions? Individuals who have already been approved a visa but are no longer able to come to New Zealand are not able to get a refund.
My employee has applied for a work visa but can no longer travel to New Zealand as originally planned due to the travel restrictions. Can they withdraw their application and get a refund or change their travel dates? Applicants who have applied for a visa who no longer wish to, or cannot, travel to New Zealand are able to withdraw their application by contacting INZ. Applicants who withdraw their application are not able to get a refund. INZ is currently looking at options for applicants who want to change their travel dates.
How will transit passengers who have been in mainland China since 2 February 2020 be treated? Transit passengers on a flight that left from China and is transiting New Zealand will be denied boarding.
Can immediate family members travel by themselves or do they need to be travelling with the New Zealand citizen or permanent residence holder? Immediate family members who are not New Zealand citizens or permanent residence holders must be travelling together on the same flight to New Zealand. Immediate family includes partner (ordinarily living together in a partnership), legal guardian (Person with the legal right and responsibility to provide for the care of the person who is excluded from the temporary border measures) and dependent child (a child who is dependant, under the age of 24 travelling together as a family unit).
What is included in ‘mainland China’? Mainland China includes all of China except for Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.
This is a rapidly evolving issue and it is not possible to predict what will happen in the coming weeks. It is too early to say how long the disruption to international visitation is likely to last and how long the recovery period might be. However, there have been global health scares in the past, and on those occasions, the impact on travel has been relatively brief.
Please stay in touch with the Association (0800 737 827, firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have concerns or questions regarding your business.