COVID-19: trio of statutes with ramifications in the workplace | Employment Law Update

Three significant pieces of legislation were assented to over the last few days:

  • • the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020 (assented to on 13 May 2020)

  • • the Immigration (COVID-19 Response) Amendment Act 2020, and

  • • the COVID-19 Response (Further Management Measures) Legislation Act (both assented to on 15 May 2020).

COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020 This new Act addresses the need for enforcement powers for certain restrictions that may be applied so that they do not rely on powers provided by a state of national emergency. New Zealand is now in a National Transition Period. The legislation equips the Minister of Health to make orders appropriate to the containment of the epidemic. In the workplace context, powers are given to enforcement officers to close businesses and undertakings that are operating in contravention of an order or contrary to any conditions imposed on their operation by an order. The closure may not exceed 24 hours in duration. The legislation provides a right of appeal to a District Court Judge.

Immigration (COVID-19 Response) Amendment Act 2020 Current immigration law is based on the consideration of individuals on a case-by-case basis. In the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 epidemic, this Act gives powers to the Government to amend visa conditions for large groups of people, extend visas of large groups of people for varying periods of time (enabling processing to be staggered), stop people overseas from making applications while it is not possible to travel to New Zealand due to border restrictions and refuse entry to certain people with deemed entry permission to prevent them from entering New Zealand while border restrictions are in place.

COVID-19 Response (Further Management Measures) Legislation Act 2020 This piece of legislation and the COVID-19 Response (Requirements For Entities — Modifications and Exemptions) Act 2020 (which originated from the same Bill) together contain a wide range of measures chiefly directed to the better management (short and long term) of business and local government affairs affected by the pandemic. The measures are discussed in two other Tracker items provided today to subscribers of New Zealand Employment Tracker.

Of particular relevance to employees is the ability set out in the former Act to return temporarily to work during a period of parental leave in order to respond to circumstances related to the pandemic (if there is a higher demand for their services and their role cannot be filled by another). The intention is that such workers be not disadvantaged by losing entitlements to leave and payments. The measures, which apply retrospectively from 25 March 2020, have a two-year life as amendments to the Parental Leave and Employment Protection Act 1987 as they will potentially affect future periods of parental leave. A late change enables work carried out in the period up to three months after the expiration of the Epidemic Preparedness (COVID-19) Notice 2020 to be covered by the provisions.

Source documents: Minister of Workplace Relations and Safety COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020