If one of your employees tests positive for Covid-19 there are procedures you must undertake. Rules are changing all the time, so when you read this be aware there may have already been changes. Also there are many things that frankly are not very clear yet, but I’ll do my best to set out what employers currently must do by law.
At work during infectious period
If the employee was present at work during their infectious period, then any other employee who was in the workplace within that timeframe may be a “close-contact”. This depends on the size of the workplace, how close in proximity employees were to the infected employee, and possible spread by spaces or surfaces that may have been contaminated.
The starting point is if one of your employees tests positive they must stay at home. All positive cases of Covid-19 either complete an online case investigation or will be interviewed by public health officials over the phone. Your employee will have to tell public health officials if they have been at work during their infectious period then the public health officials will contact your work directly to discuss details relating to transmission, dates, and times.
Recording visits for contact tracing
You must have more than one way for visitors to your workspace to be able to record their visit. QR scanning codes and/or manual sheets are required. Employers must also keep records of what employees are present on site and when. Record keeping and contact tracing will ensure that in the event one of your employee’s tests positive, you will be able to identify to health officials who has been exposed as a close contact.
The employee who returned the positive Covid-19 test or is awaiting a test result will be subject to the Covid-19 Public Health Response (Isolation and Quarantine) Order 2020. The employee must notify the Ministry of Health of their address of residence which they intend to be their place of self-isolation as well as an email address or phone number to be contacted on.
At the time of writing this, the infected employee is required to isolate for 10-14 days (sorry that’s what the legislation says) from the date they were tested or from when their symptoms started.
Any other employees who are close contacts must be off work for a minimum of 10 days – provided they produce a negative test on day 8 and do not develop any symptoms of Covid-19.
When the country moves to ‘phase two’ of the public health response plan, the isolation period for positive cases will be reduced to 10 days, and 7 days for close contacts. Close contacts will require a PCR test on day 5 of isolation.
Any employees who are not considered close contacts will not be required to isolate. From what I can work out a public health official will contact employees who are considered close contacts but I am sure most employers will be proactive and work it out themselves.
You must allow infected employees the necessary time off to “recover” (I am not sure if this means recover from symptoms, if any, or until they are not infectious – it must be the latter). The first thing that employers will ask is if employees are out of sick leave, then do I have to pay them while they are isolating? The short answer is that there are arguments both ways.
Take advice before you stop paying an employee who is isolating at home. Remember you cannot direct employees to take annual leave unless you give 14 days’ notice.
The answer may be that you are eligible for financial support through Work and Income for the following circumstances:
- To help pay wages or salary while an employee is off work isolating and/or recovering
- If an employee is self-isolating for precautionary measures but is unable to work from home
- If an employee is waiting on a Covid-test which requires them to stay home but they are unable to work from home
These options are also available should other employees be required to isolate and get tested if they are deemed close contacts by the Ministry of Health or a Public Health Unit.