Workplace Responsibilities: 5 Things Employers Must Do During COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic rocked the world disrupting the way employers run their businesses. When the government announced lockdowns and business closures, companies scrambled to find ways to continue operating. At the same time, employers had to look after their employees’ safety. With the pandemic still ongoing, there seems to be no chance for workplaces to return to pre-pandemic normal in the short-term. Here are five workplace responsibilities of employers during COVID-19:

SBR NZ Employers Responsibilities
Transport for London’s Safe Distancing reminder. Photo by Ethan Wilkinson on Unsplash

1. Comply with minimum health and safety workplace regulations

Employers have a legal obligation to comply with government-imposed minimum health and safety workplace (HSW) regulations to help curb the spread of COVID-19 cases. Businesses not only struggled to stay open, they also struggled to implement HSW protocols ill-fitted for their industries. While the wearing of personal protective equipment (PPE) is a norm for certain industries (e.g. construction industry), some industries (e.g. retail) traditionally did not require the wearing of PPE. In addition, the HSW protocols required employers to shell out additional expense to buy face masks and install handwashing stations in workplaces.

2. Implement additional HSW protocols

Employers should implement additional HSW protocols, if necessary to continue to safely operate the business. The minimum HSW regulations are instructive. But there is no prohibition for employers to implement stricter HSW protocols, such as social distancing, should the business requires it. The employer knows what’s happening on ground level more than the government does and so should take a more proactive role with respect to HSW protocols. Aside from the government-imposed HSW guidelines, Hillhouse suggests a coordination between employer and employee improves health and safety at work.

3. Continue paying salaries on time and in full

Employers should ensure that they continue to pay their employees’ salaries on time and in full. For sure, many businesses are feeling the cash flow crunch and some were not able to continue operating. But if the employer required its employees to work, on- or off-site, the employer remains obliged to pay what the employee earned. It is likewise important for employers to know the different types of employees and their corresponding leave entitlements. A recent court ruling instructs us that employers should also give work leaves to casual workers.

4. Implement flexible working arrangements

The work-from-home (WFH) set-up became the de facto work arrangement for many companies at this time. However, employers can explore other modes of flexible working arrangements. These could include compressed work weeks or alternate work shifts. Employers should also consider flexible leave for workers in the event workers or their family members get infected with COVID-19.

5. Conduct risk assessment

Employers must lastly regularly conduct a risk assessment especially at this time when the number of cases is still not going down. Risk assessment must be proactive because we have seen that the behaviour of COVID-19 is unpredictable. Employers must consider all foreseeable hazards and risks associated and implement a contingency plan that reduces the impact of the risks. Among the things employers should examine is the likehood that an employee will be exposed to COVID-19 and what the employer would do when that happens.

Key takeaways

COVID-19 disrupted the way we do business. To some, the pandemic placed additional burden to employers who were cash strapped. Nevertheless, the responsibilities of employers in the workplace remained. It is important for employers not to lose sight of their obligations – to their employees, to their customers, to their vendors, and to the government – despite the difficulties of running a business during this health crisis.

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