COVID-19 FAQ

COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions

This page brings together a number of questions on our members' minds as we face the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This is a fast-changing situation, and we'll keep this page updated. 

If you have a question not answered here, email us at comms@ecc.org.nz.


Basic safety

These measures are unchanged at every level to help keep everyone safe.   

  • Everyone must stay home if they're sick, no exceptions 
  • If you have any symptoms (runny nose, coughing etc), get tested for COVID-19
  • Hygiene measures of washing hands regularly, and cleaning hard surfaces regularly all remain in place

Level 1

Here’s what you need to know:

  • It’s also important that we keep the basic hygiene measures. These include washing your hands and coughing or sneezing into your elbow. Remember to remain vigilant and being aware of physical distancing when out-and-about amongst strangers is a good habit to keep
  • We should all continue to keep track of where we’ve been and who we’ve seen to assist with rapid contact tracing if it is required
  • This will be our new normal but, while we do return to pre-COVID life, we must remember we remain in a global pandemic


Here are the Alert Level 1 “rules”:

  • If you’re sick, stay home. Don’t go to work. Don’t socialise
  • If you have cold or flu symptoms call your doctor or Healthline and make sure you get tested
  • Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Wash your hands
  • Sneeze and cough into your elbow, and regularly disinfect shared surfaces
  • If you are told by health authorities to self-isolate you must do so immediately
  • If you’re concerned about your well-being or have underlying health conditions, work with your GP to understand how best to stay healthy
  • Keep track of where you’ve been and who you’ve seen to help contact tracing if needed. Use the NZ COVID Tracer app as a handy way of doing this
  • Centres should help parents and other adults keep track of their movements by displaying the Ministry of Health QR Code for contact tracing
  • Stay vigilant. There is still a global pandemic going on. You should be prepared to act fast to step up Alert Levels if we have to

People will have had different experiences over the last couple of months. Whatever you’re feeling — it’s okay. Be kind to others. Be kind to yourself.

Level 2 

The big picture for level 2 is: 

  • ECE services can re-open
  • Most of the rules for Alert Level 3 apply - just with more children
  • ECE centres are expected to provide a safe environment, with the enhanced measures around safety and contact tracing - make sure you know who's been in your centre
  • Current closure rules apply if a suspected or confirmed COVID case occurs - ie centre must close for 72 hours for cleaning and contact tracing

Will spacing rules revert to the pre-lockdown levels of 2.5 square metres per child indoors? 
Yes. 

    Can we provide food? 
    Yes, providing it complies with MPI & Ministry of Health requirements.

    What about PPE?
    Government advice is that it isn't a requirement for ECE.

    Should we take new enrollments in Level 2?
    Yes - but take precautions around tours, to make sure they're closely supervised

    What is best practice for opening our doors?
    Some recommendations from our exec team include:

    • If you haven't already, put up posters or make flyers outlining Level 2 procedures and make them easy to access. YOu might like to email them to your parents and ask for confirmation that they've read it  
    • Stationing a team member with a firm handle on the COVID-19 protocols and prepared to have some tough conversations (if necessary) when greeting parents. Keep it conversational, not transactional, it's natural for everyone to be a little on edge in these circumstances!  
    • Toys - if you're concerned about sharing or cleaning toys, don't put them out for a couple of weeks 

    Insurance 

    Level 2 insurance with Crombie Lockwood 
    Our preferred suppliers Crombie Lockwood have advised that as centres can re-open in Level 2, with suitable public health measures and contact tracing, insurance does not apply. You can read the full update here.  

    Is there any guidance on insurance claims, ie how long it’s taking to process or when we should apply for it?
    We've put together this spreadsheet to help with claims through Crombie Lockwood, plus Rubiix have offered free accountancy advice to those needing it

    What is a reasonable amount to ask for when negotiating a rent holiday with your landlord? 
    The actual amount is wholly for both parties to negotiate, not one or the other.


    Staff returning to work - advice from Buddle Findlay

    How do you manage staff that have refused to return to work for 12 weeks?
    Assuming there is work to be done, the employee is not sick or looking after a dependent who is sick and assuming the workplace is safe there is no lawful basis for an employee to refuse to return to work. The 12 week period is, of course, nothing more than the length of the wage subsidy and it has no other relevance than that.

    Accordingly, in these circumstances, an employee is simply refusing to work without any lawful or reasonable basis to do so. Subject to the employer acting reasonably and working with the employee to either help them through some concern or misapprehension about their rights and responsibilities, the employer is entitled to direct the employee to work.

    Should the employee continue to refuse to work, the employer could pursue a disciplinary process. However, given the unusual circumstances and the genuine concerns many people have about Covid-19 and related issues, it will be important for employers to approach situations like these cautiously.

    Can you confirm what we should do if teachers are unwilling to return to work because they claimed they are at risk? Can we require them to prove this via a medical certificate?
    This is, in essence, another situation where an employee is unwilling or refusing to work. The question is, therefore, whether there is a reasonable basis for the employee's stance such that the employer cannot lawfully direct them to work or pursue a disciplinary process for their refusal to do so.

    Subject to our comments below about the wage subsidy and the Covid-19 Leave Support Scheme, even where an employee's unwillingness or refusal to work has a reasonable basis, the employer has no obligation to pay. That is, the employee is not sick, or even claiming they are sick and they therefore have no entitlement to sick leave. Nor does the statutory limitation on when an employer can request a medical certificate, apply (section 68 holidays act 2003, i.e. after three or more consecutive calendar days). That said, nor is there any legal requirement on the employee to provide a medical certificate, although they may wish to do so to protect themselves from disciplinary action.

    In this situation it will be incumbent on an employee to be open and frank with their employer in relation to why they consider themselves at risk and what their concerns are. To the extent that they can identify themselves as either "at risk" or "high risk" pursuant to MOH guidelines, they will be in a stronger position. (Note that these guidelines are changing as the country moves between lockdown levels). To the extent that an employee is "high risk" and to the extent that they work openly and reasonably with their employer to establish this, the employer would have no reasonable basis to pursue a disciplinary process.

    It may be that the situation is unclear and that it is reasonable for the employer to suggest that without a medical certificate it is unable to accept the employee's assertion. This will be circumstance specific. A question also arises as to who should pay for the medical certificate. In the first instance, we consider it would be reasonable for the employer to suggest that this is a cost for the employee to bear. Again this will be circumstance specific.

    Overall this situation is about discussion and enquiry, with the aim being to establish whether it is fair and reasonable or acceptable for the employee to remain at home. Both parties must engage and act reasonably. It may be, for instance, that, based on the employee's personal circumstances and predilections, they are genuinely fearful of returning. In these circumstances, it would be incumbent on the employer to work with the employee to help them through this.

    In the event that there was not an adequate and reasonable basis for the employee to refuse to return to work, the employer could direct them to attend work and if they did not adhere to that direction, the employer could pursue a disciplinary process.

    As indicated above, even where an employee has an adequate and reasonable basis for refusing to return to work, the employer has no obligation to pay them. The employee may, however, be entitled to or have access to other payments. For instance, if the employer has been receiving the wage subsidy they would be obliged to continue to pass this on. In addition, the employer may be able to (and therefore should) apply for payments under the Covid-19 Leave Support Scheme. You can read more at the Work and Income Website here.

    For completeness we note that an employee could claim that they are striking on health and safety grounds. A strike on health and safety grounds is lawful if the employee has "reasonable grounds for believing that the strike… Is justified on the grounds of safety or health" (section 84, Employment Relations Act 2000). This would seem to be an unlikely course, we note that this is not a high standard.

    Funding 

    What's the latest on continuing funding and how do I manage it in SMS? 

    Minister Hipkins has stated MoE funding will continue, covering all children already enrolled and booked in a service.

    In the 22 April Early Learning Bulletin, the MoE advised centres to use Emergency Closure in your SMS. This refers to section 7-5 of the funding handbook that states funding continues for services when Emergency Closure is approved by MoE, which is the case here.

    If you have updated your SMS, marking your calendar with Emergency Closure, you can run the RS7 Funding Summary report and this will confirm your funding for March, April and May (if you have done EC & sign-in sheets for these months).

    So long as you didn’t have lots of permanent departures, you will have a positive wash-up for these months. (In emergency closure the SMS system treats the children as if they were there so you get full funding).

    You will also get full funding for any new enrolments that were due to start during the closure so long as you have a signed and dated enrolment form showing the planned start date.

    Where you will not get the remaining 25% is when the parent has permanently withdrawn their child from your service. This could potentially mean a negative wash-up for a service, as MoE have said there is no claw-back for the negative amount.

    This will not include children who are staying at home at level 3 due to parental choice as they have not been permanently withdrawn (enrolment terminated) – they are still funded and the EC12 stops the frequent absence rule being applied.

    Even if WINZ payments are made, if we're not charging parents will it end up as a credit for them?
    There are two issues of concern regarding the Childcare Subsidy decision - firstly, the impact on some centres, especially those community-owned centres in lower-socio-economic communities, will be significantly adverse. To assume those centres are doing nothing for their families during the lockdown is naive. 
    The second issue is the arbitrary manner in which the decision was made, 48 hours after advising us in writing the subsidy would continue. Such callous disregard for the recipients of the subsidy and the childcare services they use calls into question the ability of MSD to make sensible decisions at all.
    The current situation is that the payments ended on 6 April, and we're urging the MSD to reverse this decision

    Do we keep charging fees for parents through lockdown? 
    We realise that this time is very stressful for centres, their children, parents and staff.

    We are very much aware that centres have two main sources of income: government subsidies and parent fees (for most), and strongly recommend that all centres apply for the government's wage subsidy as soon as possible.

    We also recommend, not withstanding the above, that centres, refrain from charging parents fees over the lock down period if at all possible.

    It is the government's expectation that centres will continue to pay their staff over the lockdown period, that's why the wage subsidy is available. It is also in addition to the normal MoE payment centres receive three times a year, with the next payout due in early July.  


    Level 3 

    Do we have to re-open? What if staff refuse to come in? 

    • Be available and ready to open
    • Check with parents - if no children attend, you won't be opening 
    • If all or most teachers are either vulnerable or in a vulnerable bubble then you can’t open as you can't hold ratios 
    • If a handful of essential worker parents need to attend, but you have no teaching cover (majority vulnerable) then you cant open under regs. However, you should make efforts to assist them in finding alternate supervision and care of their children via wider whanau or via a free service here
    • Here's an example of what one centre is doing to re-open

    Are siblings to be placed in the same bubble of ten?
    Yes, this is what the MoE recommends.

    We are licensed to 100 children but only three want to come back under level 3. What will happen to our funding if we opt to stay closed?
    It continues, as per MoE advice

    Does the Crombie Lockwood Insurance package cover level 3?
    Yes - see here for more information

    We have parents wanting to send their children despite not having to leave home to go to work. Are we able to, and what’s the guidance on taking these children in? 
    The repeated advice is for parents to keep their children home if they can, especially if they work from home. 

    We cannot refuse attendance, but can have that conversation with parents, explaining government advice, the ongoing risks etc. 

    Do we use the same teachers for the whole two weeks or can we share this to make it fairer?
    There's government advice on the best approach here. 

    What if your centre doesn't provide food?

    • Know the risks of bringing in plastic containers and let parents know about hygiene practice at home as they prepare their child’s lunch
    • Stagger lunches between bubbles etc

    Will the three week absence rule apply as we move through the alert levels? 
    Permanently enrolled children who do not attend during Alert Level 3 will be entitled to the EC12 exemption. The adjustment to this rule will apply from 1 February through until 31 May and begins on the first day of a continuous absence of longer than 3 weeks. It provides an exemption for all children to allow services to claim funding for enrolled but absent children for up to 12 weeks. Services do not need to complete an EC12 form for children permanently enrolled at the service.

    Read more here

    Working with our team

    How much work could they ask their teachers to do while they were in lockdown?
    The advice we have received from our partners, Buddle Findlay, is that it is reasonable for an employer to expect their staff, being paid, to do some work from home. The amount is up to the employer to determine, being reasonable about the employee’s situation and environment.

    Do we continue paying staff through the level 4 lockdown? 

    We recognise the strain the lockdown puts on our members - the government's wage subsidies are designed for employers to keep staff through this period. We recommend applying for all your waged staff as soon as you can if you haven’t already. 

    To quote the MSD: "...(employers) will make best endeavours to retain the named employees and pay them a minimum of 80% of their normal wages or salary for the duration of the subsidy." 

    You can read all the Ministry of Social Development's guidance on employer obligations here

    If a staff member is not rostered on for whatever reason, will they still receive the wage subsidy?
    Yes – staff will still receive the wage subsidy even if they are not rostered.

    If a staff member works and their pay is less than the subsidy because there's not enough hours, will they get topped up to the wage subsidy? 
    Yes – if they work less hours and the pay is less than the subsidy, they are still entitled to the full subsidy - the point of the subsidy is to assist employees are impacted by the lockdown.

    Presumably, in this instance, the employee would normally work more hours and be paid more than the wage subsidy.

    How do I pay staff if my centre is shut down?
    Wage subsidies are available for all employers significantly impacted by COVID-19 and struggling to retain employees as a result.
    The COVID-19 Wage Subsidy will be paid at a flat rate of: 

    $585.80 for people working 20 hours or more per week

    $350.00 for people working less than 20 hours per week

    The subsidy is paid as a lump sum. These rates are what the government subsidy pays you. They do not necessarily reflect what you pay your staff, you will have to make up any difference.

    To qualify, employers must have suffered, or are projected to suffer, at least a 30% decline in revenue compared to last year for any month between January 2020 and the end of the scheme in June 2020.

    You can read all the details on the wage subsidy scheme here.

    Can staff use annual or sick leave as well as the wage support scheme?

    The wage subsidy is just that. The Employment Relations Act, Holidays Act and other employment legislation still apply. The wage subsidy is paid to you to help your centre retain its staff. They continue to have leave entitlements under their employment agreement.

    Do we pay relief teachers through lockdown?
    Relievers who work for an agency should be in touch with their agencies to explore all options.  Relievers who you employ can be included in your wage support subsidy application – but if you do you are obliged to pay your relievers throughout the shutdown.  Otherwise, you need to advise relievers you employ, if they are no longer working for you, to apply for unemployment support or apply for the government wage subsides if they operate as sole traders.

    Does the wage subsidy include KiwiSaver?
    The wages subsidy is the total amount you will receive, so includes any Kiwisaver commitments. There has been no suggestion that these commitments are suspended. 

    The only way you can suspend making a contribution to an employee's Kiwisaver is if the employee elects to go on a Kiwisaver contribution holiday. This includes both the employee's contribution and the employer's contribution.

    Do we apply for leave subsidy now we are on lockdown? 
    Leave support is for people self-isolating because they’ve recently returned from overseas, or are a close contact of someone identified with COVID-19. We recommend applying for wage support subsidy instead through the level 4 lockdown instead. 

    Will Education Review Office reviews continue? 
    ERO have cancelled all non-essential travel and are taking a flexible approach, including communicating remotely through technology. Any centre concerned about a scheduled review should contact the ERO to discuss. We applaud the ERO for this pragmatic and sensitive step. 

    What should we do with our centre during lockdown?
    One piece of advice we have received is that COVID-19 only lives on surfaces for 72hrs.

    Cleaning this week when you are closed possibly exposes you to the virus. If you leave your centre uncleaned for the duration of lockdown, the virus will die on its own, not risking anyone's health.

    We recommend thinking about doing a good clean before re-opening and not risking further unnecessary transfer right now.



    Will the ECC be in their offices?
    Like everyone, we will be staying home from Wednesday 25 march. We have been preparing for this scenario and will work remotely, updating our members as we go.

    If you need to contact us, you can do so at comms@ecc.org.nz or on our contact page

    Attached Files