Coronavirus and what it means for employers

Coronavirus status in New Zealand

As of 24 February 2020, no cases of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) have been reported in New Zealand, and none of the six New Zealanders repatriated from the Diamond Princess Cruise Ship in Japan have Coronavirus. The five other Kiwis originally onboard the cruise ship are now in quarantine in Whangaparaoa and remain well.

The Ministry of Health NZ has confirmed that there is a high chance of New Zealand importing a case of Coronavirus, however the likelihood of a widespread outbreak is low-moderate and they are “well placed to stop the spread of the disease when a case appears.”


It remains the recommendation of the Ministry of Health that anyone who has been in or transited through Mainland China should self-isolate for 14 days upon their arrival back to NZ, as it may take two weeks for symptoms of COVID-19 to appear. Upon their return, people living with others should limit close contact with other residents.

Anyone who is living with someone who has been in or transited through Mainland China should also self-isolate for 14 days upon that persons return to New Zealand.

Symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to those of the flu and include:

  • fever
  • coughing
  • difficulty breathing

What does this mean for employers?

Infectious outbreaks can affect your ability to run business as usual, and factors to consider include:

  • How you will maintain workflow with staff absences
  • What goods and services do you rely on and how will you manage disruption to supply
  • How you can implement any alternative work practices if required (i.e. working from home)
  • How you can further protect your workers and reduce the spread of infection in the workplace
  • Making hand sanitiser and masks available to staff and visitors

Factors employers should think about include:

  • Take care of the health and safety of your team, yourself and customers / clients
  • Staff communication and support is very important. Contact staff who have been in or travelled through Mainland China as soon as possible to advise them of the workplace situation and your expectations of them. Provide them with regular update
  • Consider public transport and wider infrastructure issues that may arise in the case of a Coronavirus outbreak in New Zealand

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act, employers have a responsibility to eliminate or minimise risks and hazards to their workers and any others who may come to the workplace, and this duty extends to the risks associated with Coronavirus. The specific steps to ensure health and safety in the workplace are dependent on each individual business.

Extraordinary Circumstances

As outlined above, it is recommended that people who have returned from or travelled through Mainland China should self-isolate for 14 days upon their return to New Zealand.

An employee who is not sick but in self-isolation is not technically entitled to sick leave, however an employer could allow the employee to take annual leave or sick leave (entitlement or in advance), take unpaid leave, or work from home (if suitable).

If no other leave alternative is available, the employer does not have to pay the employee, however employers may wish to consider offering the employee additional leave (special paid leave).

If you have an employee who is in self-isolation or planning to self-isolate, his/her employment agreement and/or your Company policies may stipulate employer obligations regarding leave and pay in these circumstances.

Employment Agreements prepared by Knowhow Limited contain an Extraordinary Circumstances provision, which protects both the employer and employee in the event of a pandemic outbreak, as well as outlining the responsibilities of the employer in relation to pay.

If your employment agreements do not contain an Extraordinary Circumstances clause, we can assist in the drafting of a compliant clause to Agreements issued from now on. Changes to existing agreements must be negotiated. Knowhow Limited can also assist in the drafting of Company policies and procedures regarding self-isolation and Extraordinary Circumstances.

If you have any questions in relation to sick leave, health and safety, employees in self-isolation or how a pandemic outbreak may affect your workplace, please contact Knowhow Limited on 09 377 9891.

We have relied on information issued by Business New Zealand and the Ministry of Health in preparing this information.

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