The Government currently requires that gatherings of 500 or more people in close proximity outdoors, or 100 people or more indoors be cancelled.
Essential gatherings, which include work, school and public transport, are currently exempt from the restriction and can continue at this stage.
Accordingly, workplaces containing over 100 people are still able to continue operating, however this will not be “business as usual”. Government guidance has indicated that within the workplace, large meetings, conferences, off-site events with large numbers of staff and training courses are classified as non-essential gatherings. Non-essential work gatherings may be cancelled, or alternatively, you may make changes to the way in which these non-essential gatherings are carried out. For instance, breaking larger meetings into smaller groups or sending a representative of a team or organisation rather than the entire team to meetings or making use of video calling or conferencing technology.
In addition, the restriction on mass gatherings and its application to the workplace now must be read in line with the Government’s announcement on Saturday 21 March regarding the Covid-19 alert system. With New Zealand currently categorised as alert level 2, employers have been asked to implement alternative working arrangements if this is possible. Such measures include:
- remote working (see here for our article on remote working and factors to consider if you or your employees are preparing to work remotely);
- shift-based working;
- physical distancing within the workplace;
- staggering meal breaks;
- and flexible leave arrangements.
The ability to implement these measures will differ between industries and sectors.
In addition, employees who are at high risk (including employees over the age of 70, those with a compromised immune system or those with underlying health conditions) are advised to stay to home. Employers should support this directive, as well as reiterating that employees are not to come to work if they are unwell.
To meet the new and evolving requirements of the Government’s response to COVID-19, as well as fulfill the obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, employers will need to adopt flexible approaches to working both in and out of the workplace.
It is important to note that the Government will be regularly reviewing the restrictions on mass gatherings. In addition, alert level 3 requires alternative ways of working and the closure of some non-essential businesses. Businesses should therefore ensure that they have appropriate systems in place to meet the requirements of alert level 3, should the alert level be elevated in the future.
More information of the COVID-19 alert system can be found here.
We will continue to provide you with regular updates and information as the Government continues to review its response to Covid-19 and the impacts on businesses and employees.