Worksafe notified over Auckland Covid-19 case who went to work after being tested and advised to self-isolate

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Worksafe has been notified of a possible breach of the Health & Safety at Work Act in the case of an Auckland shop assistant who went to work after being advised to self-isolate.

The AUT student went to work wearing a mask at women’s clothes store A-Z Collection on High Street, in central Auckland, after feeling ill on November 9, and being tested for Covid-19 the next day.

She had called in sick, but after speaking with her manager went to work anyway.

On Thursday, Minister for Covid-19 Response Chris Hipkins said it was “disappointing” the advice of medical professionals to self-isolate was ignored.

Hipkins told employers across the country: “Please be good employers. When your staff ring in sick, please do everything you can to accommodate that and allow them to do the right thing by staying home.”

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But a Worksafe spokeswoman said the agency, which is responsible for policing safety at work, had been notified of the case.

The agency could not confirm whether an investigation would take place into the incident involving the worker who had a customer-facing role, she said.

A-Z on High Street, which is shut due to Auckland’s latest Covid Community Case

David White/Stuff

A-Z on High Street, which is shut due to Auckland’s latest Covid Community Case

Employment lawyer David Traylor from the Dundas Street law firm, said that under the Health & Safety at Work Act employers had duties to take all reasonably practicable steps to ensure the health and safety of their employees.

That duty extended to all other people in the workplace, which in the case of a shop, would include its customers.

“The question that’s begged is what are the reasonably practicable steps that an employer could take in a situation like this, where the employee has been directed to self-isolate,” Traylor said.

But, he said: “Complying with the direction and not acting contrary to that direction is likely to be a reasonably practicable step.”

Under the Health & Safety at Work Act, duties also fall on employees to take reasonably practicable steps to protect the health and safety of other people in the workplace, Traylor said.

And, he said, when employees were sick, they had a right to refuse to go to work.

“If you are unfit for work, you are within your rights not to attend work,” Traylor said.

Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay said the store was closed for a deep-clean.

Out of “an abundance of caution” all workers in downtown Auckland have been advised to work from home on Friday where possible, or wear masks if they needed to come into the city.

Three close contacts of the woman have been identified, a colleague and two friends – all who report being well.

The two friends were being transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility at Jet Park Hotel, including one who lives alone in the Vincent Residences, where the new case also lives.

All residents of the apartment block have been asked to go home and stay home while testing takes place, and had been told to isolate for three days.

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