Covid-19: How workplaces will operate under the new traffic light system

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announces that the country will move to the new Covid-19 Protection Framework, also known as the traffic light system, from 11:59pm on Thursday, December 2.

The traffic light system will be in place by December 3. Here's what you need to know about how workplaces will work under the new Covid-19 protection framework.

Explainer: From 11.59pm on December 2, New Zealand will transition into the new traffic light system – the Covid-19 response that allows for greater movement for fully vaccinated New Zealanders.

This framework, which replaces the original alert level system, works with three different lights – green, orange and red. While the rules differ for certain groups at each level, there are some consistencies – keeping track of your movements and wearing face coverings. Kiwis can also visit friends and whānau at every phase.

Auckland is among a number of regions in the North Island moving straight into red. Wellington and all of the South Island are among the regions moving to orange. No region will start in green.

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To give readers a better understanding of how the new traffic light system operates, Stuff is breaking down key areas. This is how workplaces will operate.

At the green and orange, workplaces can operate as normal, but working from home is encouraged in red.
At the green and orange, workplaces can operate as normal, but working from home is encouraged in red.

Work in hospitality or at a close contact business? Get vaccinated

At every traffic light colour, the Government has mandated vaccinations for staff working at businesses that require vaccine passes from customers – hospitality, events, gatherings, gyms and close-contact businesses. This mandate is also in place for onsite tertiary education while in red.

To continue working in these spaces, staff will need to get their first vaccination by December 3, when the new framework rolls out. They must be fully vaccinated by January 17 to keep working.

Businesses that don’t follow My Vaccine Pass requirements could face fines of up to $15,000.

What about workplaces with no Government mandates?

As Employment NZ explains on its website, businesses not subjected to mandates cannot require individuals to be vaccinated. But they can require certain work to be done only by vaccinated workers, based on the risk of contracting and transmitting Covid-19.

Businesses need to assess their Covid-19 exposure risk first and consider whether other public health measures – like physical distancing and PPE use – can adequately minimise risk. If mandates are needed, businesses should set a reasonable timeframe for workers to decide if they’ll get the jab.

The Government has created an assessment tool to help businesses identify whether a mandate is needed.

Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Wood described the tool as “simple and clear” and said it builds on WorkSafe guidance. It also had input from BusinessNZ and the Council of Trade Unions (CTU).

The tool sets out four key factors, and at least three must be met before businesses can reasonably require vaccinations for particular work. The tool isn’t yet available – the Government has earmarked mid-December – and it will be tweaked over the coming weeks.

The My Vaccine Pass is mandated in various settings for both staff and customers.
The My Vaccine Pass is mandated in various settings for both staff and customers.

Based on what we already know, the tool outlines lower risk environments as places where workers are indoors in a space of 100sqm or more, or outside; they work at least 1m apart from others; are close to others for 15 minutes or less; and aren’t providing services to vulnerable people.

High risk settings are defined as places where workers are in less than 100sqm of indoor space; are less than 1m distance from others; are close to people for more than 15 minutes; and are servicing vulnerable people.

What if you don’t get vaccinated?

Last week, the Government passed legislation to provide a minimum four-week paid notice period when people have their employment agreements terminated because they are not vaccinated, and their work requires vaccination. This only applies to employees who do not have a notice period, or whose notice periods are shorter than four weeks.

Employees are now entitled to reasonable paid time away from work to get vaccinated.

Employers are still encouraged to consider reasonable alternatives before termination – such as finding alternative work in the business that doesn’t require vaccination.

The traffic light levels, broken down

Here’s how workplaces will operate specifically under each traffic light.

Green: Green is the least restrictive level under the traffic light system. This is when there are some Covid-19 cases in the community, transmission is limited and hospitalisations are manageable.

At green, record keeping and scanning is required. Face coverings are mandatory on flights and are encouraged indoors.

Workplaces can operate as normal.

Orange: This level is where there is increasing community transmission that is putting pressure on the health system.

At orange, record keeping and scanning is required. Face coverings are mandatory on flights, public transport, in taxis, retail, public venues, and encouraged elsewhere.

Businesses and workplaces are open. Most businesses and workplaces can choose whether they check My Vaccine Pass for customers and visitors. If they do not, they may have to follow some restrictions.

Red: Red is the highest level in the traffic light system and is where action needs to be taken to protect people and the health system from an unsustainable number of hospitalisations.

At this level, working from home is encouraged. Most businesses can choose whether they use My Vaccine Pass for customers and visitors, but there will be restrictions if they do not, including possibly needing to close.

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