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Swine Flu & Other Pandemics - Who Pays?

Published 01 Jul 2009


The World Health Organisation (WHO) has now declared a pandemic. Following the declaration our (NZ) Government immediately increased the powers of Health Officials in an effort to minimise the spread of the H1N1 virus. The changes of power greatly affect the workplace of every NZ business.

For detailed information please click here :

The Rules

A Medical Officer Of Health can:
1. Enter the premises of a business
2. Isolate infected staff
3. Restrict the travel plans of infected people
4. Close you down
5. Ban meetings (If there's a state of emergency)
6. Take all steps required to prevent the spread of H1N1
7. Hospitalise infected staff

OSH Law (The Health & Safety In Employment Act 1992) Employers must take every reasonably practicable step to manage hazards. Given the worst outcome of some swine flu cases (death) the H1N1 virus must surely be classified as a 'Significant Hazard' by employers. Supporting this is the WHO declaring a pandemic and the NZ Govt empowering Health Officials.

When managing hazards (having identified it is a hazard) employers must 'classify' the hazard and decide whether it is – or is not a 'significant hazard. A 'significant hazard' is one that can cause 'serious harm' and the classification of the virus must fall into the 'serious' & therefore the 'significant' category. Most employers will not be able to tell whether or not any flu-like symptoms being displayed by employees, represents swine flu or is an easily 'coped with' other virus. Our advice is to err on the side of conservatism and treat flu-like symptoms as a significant hazard. Employers really do not have a choice.

If there is a later allegation of the employer acting improperly (the flu turns out to not be 'A Influenza H1N1' the defence will be strongly weighted by the pandemic declaration and the empowering of Health Officials.

The main decision employers and employees have to make is whether or not to send, keep (or people stay) at home if the symptoms are apparent or to prevent the possibility spreading. Employers have the right to expect honest assessments from their employees at work or home.

Detailed Information - A worthwhile Repeat

Swine Flu Symptoms

According to the CDC (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), like seasonal flu, symptoms of swine flu infections can include:
  • fever, which is usually high, but unlike seasonal flu, is sometimes absent
  • cough
  • runny nose or stuffy nose
  • sore throat
  • body aches
  • headache
  • chills
  • fatigue or tiredness, which can be extreme
  • diarrhea and vomiting, sometimes, but more commonly seen than with seasonal flu
Signs of a more serious swine flu infection might include pneumonia and respiratory failure.
If your child has symptoms of swine flu, you should avoid other people and call your pediatrician who might do a rapid flu test to see if he has an influenza A infection. Further testing can then be done to see if it is a swine flu infection.

Serious Swine Flu Symptoms

More serious symptoms that would indicate that a child with swine flu would need urgent medical attention include:
  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish or gray skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough

Swine Flu Symptoms vs. a Cold or Sinus Infection

It is important to keep in mind most children with a runny nose or cough will not have swine flu and will not have to see their pediatrician for swine flu testing.
This time of year, many other childhood conditions are common, including:
  • allergies - runny nose, congestion, and cough
  • common cold - runny nose, cough, and low grade fever
  • sinus infections - lingering runny nose, cough, and fever
  • strep throat - sore throat, fever, and a positive strep test
What You Need To Know
  • Swine flu likely spreads by direct contact with respiratory secretions of someone that is sick with swine flu, like if they were coughing and sneezing close to you.
  • People with swine flu are likely contagious for one day before and up to seven days after they began to get sick with swine flu symptoms.
  • Swine influenza viruses are not spread by food. You cannot get swine influenza from eating pork or pork products. Eating properly handled and cooked pork products is safe.
  • Droplets from a cough or sneeze can also contaminate surfaces, such as a doorknob, drinking glass, or kitchen counter, although these germs likely don't survive for more than a few hours.
  • The latest swine flu news from the Ministry of Health includes advice that students should stay home if they have swine flu symptoms, but schools do not need to close unless they have large clusters of cases that are affecting school functioning. Schools that closed based on previous recommendations, such as if they had a single confirmed case or probable case, can now likely reopen.

Employers Options:
Please refer to your Employment Agreements before acting.
  1. Employers may negotiate reduced hours for employees who work from home.
  2. Employers can require Employees to take Annual Holidays if they have become entitled to annual leave, if the parties have been unable to agree when annual holidays will be taken, and providing the employer provides at least 14 days notice that the employee will be required to take annual holidays. If the employee is willing to agree to take annual holidays there is no need to give 14 days notice. We recommend consultation and negotiation.
  3. Infected Employees, or employees caring for an infected spouse or dependant, can take sick leave.
  4. Employers are entitled to one close down annually, but must provide 14 days of that closedown. The employee can be required to use annual holidays
  5. Employers can request Employees obtain a medical check to obtain clearance for work.
  6. Employers can direct an infected Employee not to report to work and they will be entitled to sick pay (if they are eligible), or could use annual leave entitlement if they agree.
  7. Employers and Employees both have a obligations under law, to identify potential hazards and keep the workplace healthy and safe.

Who Pays ?

Firstly- check your Employment Agreements.
But generally:
  • If an employer sends an employee home – the employer pays.
  • If the employer requires the employee to stay away – the employer pays
  • If an employee phones in and stays home because of illness – sick leave could apply.
  • If an employee stays home to look after a sick dependent relative (child) sick leave could apply.
  • If an employee imposes self isolation and stays away because of suspected possible infection then sick leave could apply.
  • If the government orders the employer to close the workplace we suggest that the employer should not have to pay. (Frustration of contract?)
Please be aware employers can negotiate for an employee to use annual holidays (where both parties agree). Neither party can 'require' the other party to agree.