On Tuesday April 28, New Zealand moves out of alert level four and to level three, giving the green light for many workplaces to reopen. What does a business have to do to open?
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has released its guidance around workplace activities and obligations under the various levels.
MBIE points out that level three will not be a general back-to-site order and a business must still operate from home if it is able to, even if it’s inconvenient. However, if working from home is not a viable option, a workplace can reopen, provided it can meet the public health measures and there is no physical interaction with the public.
It’s worth noting the same public health measures apply at every level, and they mostly focus on safety procedures such as disinfecting surfaces, frequent hand washing, not having sick people in the workplace and maintaining physical distancing. Worksafe provides a comprehensive list of ways to do this, such as stripping back the work schedule to essential jobs only, supplying soap and water or hand sanitiser, staggering meal breaks and shifts to ensure as few people as possible are working at any one time, and even installing impervious barriers between workers.
While the public health measures apply across the board, the rules differ slightly from industry to industry, and level three will have different implications depending on the business.
Will this affect retail?
Retail businesses can reopen, and staff can return to work under alert level three. However they cannot open their storefronts to customers and must only sell goods through phone or online orders and use contactless delivery. Customers can collect their orders, but this must also be contactless. These rules exclude supermarkets, dairies and petrol stations, as they have been open throughout alert level four as essential businesses.
Once we move to alert level two, customers will be allowed to enter the physical store, but public health measures and restrictions on gatherings will still apply.
Are there changes to dairies, supermarkets and petrol stations at level three?
For these businesses, most of the same level four criteria will remain in place, such as one-in-one-out entry rules. However, the main difference is that these outlets can now sell food and beverages prepared on site – milkshakes, sandwiches and such – although customers cannot consume them on the premises.
Are bars, cafes and restaurants allowed to open?
If they can meet the public health guidance and don’t physically interact with customers then they can open for business. Orders must therefore be taken via phone and online only, and the food and drink must be delivered or collected without contact, such as through a drive through system.
Typically, they won’t be able to sell alcohol as most of them are “on-licensed” which means that customers have to consume any drinks they buy on the premises. Level three does not allow this because of physical distancing requirements.
What counts as a drive-through?
Much like at fast-food restaurants, under level three businesses can use existing or new drive-through systems in order to carry out contactless collections. These must be open spaces that prevent crowding, and include contact tracing and contactless payment where possible.
How about takeaway booths?
Like cafés and bars, a takeaway booth can serve customers provided they can process the order and deliver it without coming into physical contact with the customer.
This means that yes, under level three a coffee booth or cart can take a phone or online order and payment, and then deliver the flat white to a customer in a way that avoids contact, such as leaving it in on a table or a nearby park bench.
Can businesses accept cash from customers?
Yes but only if there is no other option and they can handle it safely.
Can nail salons, hairdressers and beauty clinics reopen?
No. Because of the high level of close physical contact involved in these services, they cannot viably open or operate under alert level three. This also includes businesses going to people’s homes to do these services.
They will be able to reopen under alert level two, provided they meet the public health requirements.
How will level three affect export businesses?
Businesses that produce food for export can resume operations under level three, provided they apply all the typical public health measures.
How will level three affect employees, working hours and pay?
Because this will be a complex transition for many businesses, there are no set rules or criteria for this. However MBIE says good faith should apply and urges employers and employees to discuss the situation and base work arrangements and obligations around individual circumstances.
Generally, employees should be paid their contractual wage for each and every hour that they work. However, if during alert level four employers and employees had agreed to a reduction in pay to ensure the financial viability of the businesses and to avoid redundancies, MBIE gives the following advice:
“Any return to standard wages would depend on what was agreed. Any reduction in pay must have been mutually agreed and negotiated in good faith. Employees should have had an appropriate amount of time to consider their employer’s proposal. The minimum wage and your employment agreement apply in all cases.”
If an employer has received the wage subsidy on behalf of an employee, MBIE says that generally the full amount should still be passed on to the employee even if they return to work during level three.
MBIE also urges employees to contact Work and Income if they are experiencing issues with pay and work arrangements.
Can I hire employees?
Yes, but the interviews must be carried out remotely until we move to level two.
Can my workers and I travel?
Yes. Under level three everyone can move across their region and into neighbouring regions if necessary.
For a full table of the rules at each alert level for different businesses, see business.govt.nz.