Commercial & Business, Insights, Law Changes

COVID-19: Your guide to level three and three-quarters

COVID-19: Your guide to level three and three-quarters

Yesterday the government set out new guidelines for New Zealanders when we move down from level four restrictions. While many people will be hoping that this occurs next week, there is no guarantee of it. Nevertheless, it pays to be prepared.

The loosening will be incremental

The Prime Minister was at pains to emphasise that any relaxation of requirements will be partial only. In many respects, in fact, level three resembles level four. People who can work from home will be required to work from home. Those who can’t work from home can only be brought back to where it is safe for them to do so.

This means that certain types of businesses, such as public facing bars, restaurants and retail outlets, will be required to remain closed.

The boundaries will not be completely clear

One of the biggest problems with the ongoing rules is that there is some vagueness to them. Remember, even the Government’s own Health Minister failed to apply the restrictions properly in the early stages of the lockdown. There is always going to be room for interpretation and error and there will be some uncertainty here too.

The Government has asked that people do not push the envelope on what can and cannot be done. Every effort should be made to avoid having to go back to level four.

So what do you need to do?

If you are going to resume working from your usual premises, there are certain things you will need to do. Other things may not form part of your requirements but will help head off legal trouble in the future.

Is change appropriate at all?

Make an assessment as to whether it is appropriate or desirable to change what you are now doing. Everybody is keen for things to get back to normal but don’t let that desire get in the way of careful decision making. Remember, we all have to keep “working differently” if that is something we are able to do. Even if you can open, you’re still not allowed to interact with customers or have them on premises.

If it is, put safety first

You remain responsible for the health and safety of all those who visit your site. This includes COVID 19 risk. If you’re going to resume business from your workplace, you’re going to need to prepare and implement a COVID 19 specific plan. Get help with preparing this.

Given how important contact tracing will be, you should also keep a log of all

– Which employees were on site and when; and

– Which visitors entered your workplace (make sure you get phone numbers).

We cannot emphasise enough how crucial these things are and we are now producing further materials to help clients through this process. These will be available shortly.

Continue a dialogue with your employees

Think carefully about how you will deal with employees who are concerned about the possible health risk and don’t want to return, even if they can’t work from home. Consult with your employees about this with an open mind and come to your advisors as soon as you have any hint of trouble. Getting employment law advice before taking any action is an important way to save legal fees overall.

Consider your key business obligations

If you’ve negotiated an agreement with your landlord you may need to re-open thethat discussion about what happens if you can use some, but not all, of your premises at level three. Make sure your agreement is recorded in writing.

Quickly get a grip on who your critical suppliers are, find out what they are doing and take immediate steps to ensure ongoing supply from them.

Get the word out

Contact your customers and let them know what level three means for them. We are all sick and tired of repetitive emails from every brand that has our email address but you need to let your customers know how they will be affected. Keep your message short, to the point and customer focussed.

Don’t overpromise!

Think ahead

Start getting ready for level two. Eventually, we will come out of this. The financial and economic landscape will be very different to life before the landscape, however, and businesses that aren’t planning for that will be left behind. Engage all key stakeholders in this discussion from your bank to your shareholders to your key contractors. Get ready to hit the ground running.

Sadly, we can’t rule out a return to level four at this stage. Have a think about what worked well for you during this lockdown and what could have gone better. Review your plans to make sure you are as prepared as you can be for the worst case scenario.