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COVID-19 advice for workplaces

COVID-19 Information for workplaces webinar 24 April 2020


The Golden Rules for businesses at Alert Level 3

Healthy staff do not need medical clearance, or COVID-19 testing, before returning to work at Alert Level 3.  This is even if a worker has previously been a COVID-19 case. 

  1. If your business requires close physical contact it can’t operate.
  2. Your staff should work from home if they can.
  3. Customers cannot come onto your premises. Unless you are a supermarket, dairy, petrol station, pharmacy or permitted health service.
  4. Your business must be contactless. Your customers can pay online, over the phone or in a contactless way. Delivery or pick-up must also be contactless.
  5. Basic hygiene measures must be maintained. Physical distancing, hand washing and regularly cleaning surfaces. Workers must stay home if they are sick.
  6. If you used PPE in your business before COVID-19, then keep using it in the same way. If you didn’t use PPE in your business before COVID-19, you don’t need it now. This is advice for retailers, manufacturers and the service industries. Different advice applies to essential healthcare workers, border agencies, courts and tribunal staff, first responders and corrections staff.
  7. Visit for more advice
  8. You must meet all other health and safety obligations.

Alert Level 3 information

Drinking water safety

As we transition to COVID-19 Alert Level 3 and eventually Level 2, it is important to ensure the safety of your building water systems before occupancy resumes.

Buildings that have been unoccupied during the Level 4 lockdown may experience water quality issues. When water is not drawn through a buildings water system over an extended period, the water becomes stagnant.

Indicators of stagnation include a bad or “off” taste, unpleasant odour or slight discoloration. These factors can indicate bacteriological growth and pipe corrosion. Stagnation can support the accelerated growth of many microorganisms and pathogens, such as Legionella, which can cause harm to building occupants. It is recommended that the water supply is thoroughly flushed before occupancy resumes.

More information is provided in these two brochures:

Workplace FAQS

Who gets informed about positive cases of COVID-19?
Public Health South will get in touch with anyone who tests positive for COVID-19. They are interviewed to find out who their contacts were during their infectious period and a process called contact tracing begins. Contact tracing can be a complex process and can take time. The aim of contact tracing is to identify and inform everyone who had ‘close contact’ with someone who has tested positive COVID-19, during the time they were infectious.

Close contacts are considered to be at high risk of being infected and are normally expected to go into self-isolation for 14 days from the last date they had contact with an infected person. The 14 day isolation period is necessary because of the COVID-19 incubation period and the fact that some people can be infectious with no or few symptoms.

The “incubation period” means the time between catching the virus and beginning to have symptoms of the disease. Most estimates of the incubation period for COVID-19 range from 1-14 days. 

‘Close contact’ is defined as any person with the following exposure to a suspect, confirmed or probable case during the case’s infectious period, without appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE):

  • direct contact with the body fluids or the laboratory specimens of a case
  • presence in the same room in a health care setting when an aerosol-generating procedure is undertaken on a case
  • living in the same household or household-like setting (e.g. shared section of in a hostel) with a case
  • face-to-face contact in any setting within two metres of a case for 15 minutes or more
  • having been in a closed environment (e.g. a classroom, hospital waiting room, or conveyance other than aircraft) within 2 metres of a case for 15 minutes or more
  •  having been seated on an aircraft within 2 metres of a case (for economy class this would mean 2 seats in any direction including seats across the aisle, other classes would require further assessment)
  • aircraft crew exposed to a case (a risk assessment conducted by the airline is required to identify which crew should be managed as close contacts).

A ‘casual contact’ is any person with exposure to the case who does not meet the criteria for a close contact.

Will my organisation be informed if a staff member or customer tests positive for COVID-19?
During the contact tracing process, risk assessments are made about locations visited by COVID-19 cases during their infectious period.
If your workplace is assessed as a site of close or casual contacts, Public Health South will be in touch to offer advice about next steps.
In some cases the contact tracing process will determine that it is not necessary to inform your organisation about a case within your organisation or community because the circumstances mean there is no public health risk.

What if a staff member notifies management that they have tested positive for COVID-19?
Get in touch with Public Health South for advice about next steps in your workplace. Depending on that advice, some of the following actions may be required:
Ask the employee if he or she grants the employer permission to disclose the fact that the employee is infected.

If yes:
Notify employee’s manager(s) or supervisor(s) that the employee is infected with COVID-19 and is out on leave.
For everyone else, respond to inquiries by disclosing the employee is on a leave of absence for non-disciplinary purposes.
If no:
Notify the employee’s manager(s) or supervisor(s) only that the employee is on a leave of absence for non-disciplinary purposes.
Regardless of yes or no:
Notify the employee’s co-workers who may have come into contact with the employee at work within the past 14 days that they may have been exposed to COVID-19 and may wish to see a healthcare provider. 

You are not required to notify other office locations unless the employee visited those sites within past 14 days. DO NOT identify the infected employee by name.

To the extent reasonably possible, avoid making any direct or indirect references that would lead the co-workers to guess the identity of the employee.
Public Health South will advise your organisation to send all employees who had close contact (in the past 14 days) with the case home. They will need to stay home for a 14-day self-isolation period.

Notify known customers, vendors, or third parties with whom the employee may have come into contact at work (including off-site work contacts and building management if office setting) within the past 14 days that they may have been exposed to COVID-19 and may wish to see a healthcare provider.
Arrange for a professional cleaning of the employee’s workspace, immediate surrounding area, and areas likely visited (break room, restroom, etc.).

If I suspect an employee has COVID-19, should I report them to Public Health South?
Personal information can be used or disclosed where you believe that the use or disclosure is necessary in order to prevent or lessen a serious threat to public health or safety.

If an employee has possible COVID-19 symptoms, can I tell my other employees?
Anyone with possible symptoms should self-isolate and talk to Healthline or their GP to organise testing.  At this stage there is no health and safety imperative for the employer to disclose this information to other staff members. The employer should discuss with the isolated staff member how they want to deal with any announcement to colleagues.

An employee comes to work displaying possible COVID-19 symptoms and is sent home. Can staff be told the employee might have the virus?
If you are concerned about a risk of transmission to your other employees, you could tell them about the possible exposure. This is so they can take steps to protect themselves and to monitor for symptoms. But this doesn’t necessarily mean it is necessary to identify the employee in question. Ideally, it would be preferable not to identify the individual who may be the source of the exposure. But there will be times when that will be unavoidable in the context, such as in a small organisation or office where only one person is absent on sick leave.

One of the exceptions in the Privacy Act which permits the use or disclosure of personal information is where you believe that the use or disclosure is necessary in order to prevent or lessen the risk of a serious threat to someone’s safety, wellbeing or health.
Remember that the starting point from a privacy perspective is that an employee has a right to expect that their health information is kept confidential from other employees. An employer needs to apply discretion in deciding whether or not to disclose the nature of the illness, injury or condition.


Public Health South advice
Public Health South is available 7 days per week for case-related support or advice.

Private Bag 1921, Dunedin 9054
Ph: 03 476 9800  Fax: 03 476 9858

PO Box 1601, Invercargill 9840
Ph: 03 211 8500  Fax: 03 214 9070

PO Box 2180, Frankton, Queenstown 9349
Ph: 03 450 9156  Fax: 03 450 9169

For health advice:
Healthline COVID-19 hotline 0800 358 5453 (national)

For testing advice:
Community Based Assessment Centre hotline 0800 847 8719 (Southern region)