Sick and Contagious Employees 

What are your rights and obligations?

 Woman, Person, Desktop, Work, Aerial

With New Zealand experiencing a reported increase in the number of people contracting measles in recent months, many Employers have faced the dilemmas of what to do with staff, or their business, where an Employee has contracted a contagious virus, and is not sufficiently vaccinated against this.

Responsible action in such cases needs to occur from both the Employee and the Employer.

From the Employee’s perspective:

If an Employee is exposed to a person externally to the work environment who has, or is believed to have, a contagious virus (and they are not vaccinated themselves) they should immediately report this to their Employer. The Employee should be advised that they are not to attend work until they have undertaken a thorough medical assessment to determine whether they are a ‘carrier’ of the virus or not. An Employer does have a legal right to restrict the attendance of the Employee to the workplace until such an assessment is undertaken with this decision able to be made on the basis of mitigating the health and safety risks to other staff and/or clients.

The Employee does not have a right to demand to continue to come to work where this would impose an unrealistic chance of exposure to the virus to other staff or clients.

Options available to the Employee during this period could include taking a period of paid sick leave (if an entitlement exists), using annual leave or taking some unpaid leave.

From the Employers perspective:

While seeking to support the ‘contagious’ Employee during this period, the Employer must also consider the health and wellbeing needs of other Employees.

If practical, the Employer should consider options for the Employee to be able to continue to undertake their duties remotely for a period of time to ensure that they are not unduly financially disadvantaged through the ‘contagious’ period.

The organisation should have a clear process in place to manage a ‘contagious’ or ‘potentially contagious’ situation with this including:

  • Educating Employees on how to protect themselves against contracting contagious viruses.
  • Ensuring that Employees are aware of the steps they must take if they believe that they may have been exposed to a contagious virus and are susceptible to the virus.
  • Ensuring that there are clear processes in place to identify and respond to potential ‘contagious’ threats.

Organisations often place significant importance on developing comprehensive health and safety plans – however these should also focus on ensuring equal emphasis is provided to aspects of Employees' wellbeing. Wellbeing including the management of ‘contagious’ virus situations.

If you wish to develop a comprehensive “Wellbeing” policy to assist you in appropriately addressing workplace issues such as the above, please feel free to contact us.

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