The NZPFU had previously informed FENZ we wanted to work with FENZ to ensure members were provided with appropriate information to educate and raise awareness of Long Covid19 and its health implications. But FENZ’s notice issued on Friday is slim on Long Covid19 information and goes far further than an education and awareness tool. FENZ’s Notice includes requirements that have serious consequences for employees that may result in loss of income or even termination of employment. These punitive measures were never raised with the NZPFU.
It is the NZPFU’s view that the National Notice 027/2022 Returning to operational duties following Covid-19 infection that includes the requirement of the immediate cessation of work upon experiencing any of the broad range of symptoms is unlawful. There has been no consultation on the proposal, the process or possible outcomes including the option of light duties. FENZ is required to at least consult with the NZPFU due to the serious implications for current and ongoing employment. The NZPFU’s dispute notification to FENZ is provided below.
Members are advised:
- As with any illness, if you are unwell you should not be at work for the period you are experiencing the illness. This is particularly important for symptoms of illnesses that are contagious.
- If you have recovered from Covid19 but are experiencing symptoms of Long Covid19 please see your medical practitioner and seek advice including whether you may have Long Covid19 and if so whether you can continue to undertake operational duties. You should discuss in detail with your medical practitioner the types of symptoms, when the symptoms occur (for example the frequency, whether after exercise or at times of stress and how long the symptom lasted) and the nature of operational duties including (but not limited to) physical exertion, the use of breathing apparatus and the impact on heart rate.
- If your medical practitioner advises you are able to return to work then do so.
- If you are diagnosed with Long Covid19 or your medical practitioner is unable to diagnose but is concerned with your return to operational duties, then seek union support to ensure you are only providing the necessary medical information to your employer and that all options are considered and if operational duties are not advised then light or alternative duties must also be considered as well as any necessary support.
- If you are not operational but experiencing Long Covid19 symptoms still seek medical advice. For non-operational personnel it is unlikely that Long Covid19 will be grounds to prevent you from working. You do not need to disclose Long Covid19 diagnosis. However, you may need union assistance if you wish to discuss with your employer support to manage workload when experiencing some Long Covid19 symptoms.
- Anyone with re-occurring symptoms are advised to keep a record or symptom diary to assist with diagnosis. The record should include the date and time, the type of symptoms, the length of time the symptom lasted, the intensity (scale of 1-10), whether any trigger (e.g. exercise, stress) and what was done to reduce the symptoms.
For more information on Long Covid:
Ministry of Health:
- Attached Ministry of Health “Guidance for the rehabilitation of people with or recovering from Covid-19 in Aotearoa New Zealand”
World Health Organisation:
Centre for Disease Control and Prevention:
Below is the NZPFU notification of a dispute sent to FENZ today:
When FENZ raised the issue of the impact of long Covid symptoms the NZPFU were clear we would want to work with you to ensure the appropriate information was provided and that we saw this primarily as requiring education for better awareness. I think everyone was in agreement at that meeting that we should work together to ensure appropriate information was provided to raise awareness of long Covid and the impact on health. We were clear at that meeting that we have been promoting better health screening programmes for firefighters for early detection of occupational disease including cancer and cardiac conditions and FENZ has refused to do so. We have not heard anything more on the issue of long Covid and then this notice is sent out without any discussion.
The attached notice goes further than education and includes a requirement for our members to discuss a broad range of symptoms with their manager, immediately cease operational duties and only return when declared medically fit. In addition FENZ may require a declaration from the medical practitioner for fitness for duty and that this will be dealt with on a case by case basis. The information provided is very general and will capture everyday illness that is not related to Covid19. There is no reference to any evidence that supports the information or provide any links to independent credible resources.
This attached notice was never raised or discussed. We were not consulted. We were not informed that FENZ was sending out the attached Notice despite agreeing we would work together to ensure the appropriate information was released to educate and raise awareness. In the brief discussed we had where it was agreed we would work together on the information to be distributed there was no suggestion of a requirement to immediately cease work or to require a medical practitioner’s declaration of fitness for work. FENZ’s position affects the rights of our members in being required to discuss their medical information with their manager, it directly impacts on their right to work when otherwise able to work and creates a new scenario where their security of employment may be in jeopardy. FENZ has immediately leapt to punitive measures rather than meet to discuss the fair and lawful way forward.
In the very least FENZ was required to consult prior to distributing this Notice. Therefore we are notifying of a dispute for the failure to consult in accordance with Clause 20 of the collective agreement in that FENZ has failed to consult over this proposed notice that impacts on the members’ rights to work and security of employment in circumstances where they have recovered from illness and would otherwise be fit for duty.
The remedy is to withdraw the attached notice and for genuine consultation to commence.
- Current research has shown it is very difficult to diagnose long Covid19 due to the broad range of symptoms that are also symptoms of common illness other than Covid19. Therefore FENZ’s requirements in this notice will not only capture those that do not have long Covid19 and will create the situation where practitioners are unable to provide a definitive diagnosis impacting on the staff member’s return to work. Therefore staff could be off work for a considerable period of time when they should be able to work and be in paid work.
- The list of symptoms is very broad and can be attributed to general illness that do not have long term effects. Therefore the current notice will require members to notify their managers if experiencing any of the symptoms and to cease work, even if the symptoms are not long Covid.
- The requirement to discuss symptoms with a Manager is a breach of their right to privacy of personal medical information. Further the manager is not a medical practitioner and is likely to require the immediate cessation of work regardless of whether that instruction is reasonable in all the circumstances.
- There has been no consultation of the process when an employee identifies they may be experienced one or more symptoms. The immediate requirement to cease work without any medical grounds for doing so would be unlawful. There must also be consultation on whether other work including light duties may be appropriate.
- The immediate loss of work has serious ramifications for the staff member including loss of leave and/or income (if all leave exhausted) and possible loss of employment.
- There has been no consultation on the type of leave that will be applied. With the difficulties in diagnosis some staff could be significantly disadvantaged being required to use all leave when they would otherwise be able to work. In some circumstances the application of this notice could result in a staff member’s employment being unlawfully terminated due to symptoms that are not diagnosed as long Covid19 and otherwise being fit for work.
We put FENZ on notice that the application of this notice will be unlawful and will give rise to legal claims including personal grievances.