(Image: Tina Tiller)
(Image: Tina Tiller)

BusinessSeptember 2, 2021

Explained: hospitality and retail workers’ rights during level three

(Image: Tina Tiller)
(Image: Tina Tiller)

As restrictions loosen for most of the country, the pressure is increasing on those who staff our shops and food outlets. If you’re a hospitality or retail employee, here’s what you need to know about returning to work in level three.


What parts of the country are in level three?

Everywhere south of the Auckland border and Northland (as of 11.59pm Thursday) are now at alert level three, while Auckland remains at alert level four. You can search your workplace address here if you’re unsure whether that includes you.

I work in a restaurant/cafe/bar, can the business I work for re-open at level three?

Yes. Restaurants, cafes and bars can operate under alert level three for contactless delivery, pick-up or drive-through of pre-prepared food and non-alcoholic drinks. However, customers can’t enter premises or dine on-site.

I work in retail, can the business I work for open at level three?

Yep, all retail businesses can open as long as they don’t require close physical contact. Customers definitely cannot enter your shop, so sales must be fulfilled through contactless delivery or collection of goods (for example, click and collect).

Should I still be getting paid as I usually would if I’m working less?

Yes, your employer has to continue honouring your employment agreement, even if level three means you aren’t working as many hours as usual. As long as you’re willing and able to work, any changes made would require a variation of your contract. There is a caveat here as employment issues like this are up for interpretation and are not necessarily hard-and-fast rules. Have a read of this explainer for more information on the wage subsidy.

What if my workplace remains closed even in level three?

See above.

If I return to work, what safety measures should be in place?

Basic hygiene measures need to be maintained in your workplace. This means physical distancing, hand washing and regularly cleaning surfaces on the premises. Legally, you need to maintain a one metre distance (minimum) from your co-workers at all times, but two metres is what we should be aiming for. Physical distancing is obviously more difficult in kitchens, but there should be systems in place to allow for this as much as possible.

In addition, breaks should be staggered, overlapping shifts should be minimised, there should be limited interaction between workers, and records should be kept of who is working together. Legally, you must stay home if you’re sick.

It’s important that your employer discusses and shares safety measure plans with everyone at your workplace – including workers, contractors, and suppliers – before you head back into work.

Illustration: Toby Morris

Do I need to wear a mask at work?

There are a few exceptions (see here for the full list) but in general, you must wear a mask. Those who can’t wear a mask for health reasons can apply for an exemption card from the Disable Persons Assembly NZ and show the card when needed. Your employer should provide masks as well as sufficient cleaning products to disinfect surfaces and for you to be able to regularly wash and dry your hands.

I’m so excited to see my workmates, can I give them a hug?

No, but get creative; send air kisses (masked) or an east coast wave instead. Absence makes the heart grow fonder – just think how good that level two hug will be.

Are customers allowed inside my workplace?

No, unless your workplace is a supermarket, dairy, butcher, fishmonger, greengrocer, petrol station, pharmacy or permitted health service.

For everywhere else, customers can order and pay online, over the phone or in a contactless way. Cash should be a last resort. Delivery or pick-up must also be contactless. Customers should maintain a two metre distance from each other while waiting for orders, and there should be signs and markings to make this clear.

Do customers need to scan in?

In some form or another, yes. It is a legal requirement for businesses to display a QR code and have an alternative contact tracing system for people without smartphones. Record keeping is a requirement at all alert levels to make sure contact tracing can happen quickly.

What if me or a member of my bubble is at risk, or I need to isolate?

In these situations, your employer should be flexible. If you’re immune compromised or over 70 you shouldn’t return to work at level three, though your employer might require a doctor certificate. There is financial support available for businesses in each of these circumstances by way of the Covid 19 leave support scheme.

What if I don’t feel safe going to work?

You can justifiably refuse to attend work if there is a serious risk to health and safety. If the risk level is less than this, and you still refuse to attend work because you don’t feel safe – it depends whether that concern is reasonable for this to be justified.

However, it’s important to note that your employer needs to consult with you, take into account any genuinely held fears and figure out whether support can be provided to address or mitigate these.

What if my employer hasn’t put these safety measures in place?

The Delta variant of Covid-19 is more transmissible and makes people sicker than the strains we’ve had in the community previously so it’s really important workplaces are following and even going above and beyond these health and safety measures – that may mean a more cautious workplace environment than you experienced last time we were in level three. Unfortunately these rules are based on a high-trust model and there’s not a huge number of labour inspectors to ensure these important safety requirements are being followed.

All of these rules are vital in keeping you, whānau, your workmates and the community safe so if there are issues, it’s worth bringing them up with your employer. Go to your employer as a unified group with co-workers if you need to. It’s a good reminder to join your union if you’ve been thinking about it – there’s power in numbers.

Keep going!