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Employment obligations: COVID-19, privacy and working from home

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Anthony Harper

We answer some frequently asked questions, around employers obligations to ensure their employees privacy whilst working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of my employees has told me that they have possible COVID-19 symptoms. Can I tell my other employees?

No. You are all currently working from home and the affected employee does not have an official diagnosis. It is their prerogative to disclose information about their health, and any announcements to colleagues must be approved by that employee. You are not under any obligation to disclose this information to your other employees, especially since everyone is working from home and your other employees have not been exposed to the virus. Our privacy principles require that you check that personal information is accurate and complete before you use it.

That same employee has since confirmed that they have the virus. Can I tell my other employees now?

Maybe. Our privacy law permits the use or disclosure of personal information where it is necessary to prevent or reduce a threat to someone’s safety, wellbeing or health. However, in the current environment, where everyone is working home, it is difficult to justify telling other employees when there is no risk that they have been exposed to the virus. If your workplace was very small or close-knit before the lockdown the affected employee may choose to let your other employees know themselves. An official announcement is not the best course of action in this situation.

I want to apply for the COVID-19 Wage Subsidy Scheme. Do I need to ask permission from my employees before I disclose their information to the Ministry of Social Development (MSD)?

No. In order to apply for the wage subsidy, you will need your employees’ names, dates of birth and IRD numbers, and you can disclose this information to the MSD without asking for permission. However, it is best practice to let your employees know that you are applying for the wage subsidy in advance, and if this is not possible, to let them know soon after you apply.

Can I require my employees to join a video call every day during their working hours for the duration of the lock down do that I can make sure they are working hard?

Absolutely not! Your employees are required to comply with any reasonable requests made by you. This is not a reasonable request. Requiring an employee to stay on a video call each day during their working hours places them under constant surveillance. Our privacy principles require that the means you use to collect personal information about your employees should not be unfair or unreasonable intrusive. Look into other ways of checking in with your employees.

Disclaimer: The material contained in this document is provided only as an information source, and is correct at the time of writing. The material is a generalised summary of the key issues and is not intended as a substitute for specific professional advice and should not be relied on for such a purpose. Independent professional advice should be obtained before relying on any aspect of this material and we would be happy to assist in this regard.

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