‘At-risk’ staff returning to campus during Covid-19

Guidance for managers and staff on vulnerable staff returning to campus during Covid-19

People at higher risk of severe illness from Covid-19 may work on campus, when all staff are permitted to, or with their manager’s approval; however, ‘at-risk’ staff cannot be forced to return to campus if they feel it is unsafe to do so.

The Ministry of Health defines 'at-risk' people as those with a number of underlying health conditions, who are over 70 or in the third trimester of pregnancy.

Check the full list of Who is at higher risk to Covid-19? – Ministry of Health

Many medical conditions are defined as a disability under Human Rights Act and in the University’s Equity Policy. Some examples of medical conditions include heart, kidney or respiratory disease. 

This policy also prohibits discrimination on the basis of age or gender (or sex), which includes pregnancy. 

The University is committed to providing a safe, inclusive and equitable environment for staff and students, including a requirement for managers to make reasonable adjustments to support staff to function in their roles. See Reasonable Accommodation

Staff and their managers are encouraged to have these conversations. While it can be difficult for staff to engage in conversations about being at risk or otherwise vulnerable, they must be reassured it is safe to do so. There is more information on identifying disabilities

All staff can initiate the process of identifying their support needs by discussing them with their manager and updating their staff profile

Remember both visible and invisible disabilities, including mental health conditions, are covered by the University’s Equity Policy.  

For further information or advice, contact Cathie Walsh, Staff Equity Manager by phone: +64 9 373 7599 ext 87844 or email: cathie.walsh@auckland.ac.nz

Case studies

People with heart conditions 'at risk’

A staff member has heart disease, but has never considered it to be an issue in terms of their ability to carry out their work. They do not think of their condition as being a ‘disability’.

However, they have checked the Ministry of Health’s list of Who is at greater risk to Covid-19? and found it covers ‘serious heart conditions’.

Their manager points out they are eligible for reasonable accommodations to be made.

As a result, the staff member and their manager agree they will carry on working from home until they feel it is safe to return to campus. The staff member updates their personal profile to indicate they have a disability. Both will monitor further Ministry of Health advice. 

Team member who has had chemotherapy

Following a course of chemotherapy a staff member has lowered immunity. They are also suffering fatigue and, while they can work very effectively from home, are anxious about the risk of increased contact on public transport and the exhaustion of having to spend several hours a day travelling. They have decided it is in everyone’s best interest that they continue to work from home. The manager has seen how effectively the staff member is working remotely and is keen to support their continuation. 

Manager negotiates return

A manager uses a virtual team meeting to invite all staff with concerns about returning to campus to contact him. A staff member calls to say their father, who they care for, suffers from an acute respiratory condition and they feel unable to expose him to the risk of possible contagion. It is agreed the staff member will continue to be supported to work remotely. If zero cases of Covid 19 are maintained for three consecutive months, the staff member will then feel comfortable returning to campus.

Academic promotions and Covid-19 impacts

Where Covid-19 has impacted on your academic achievements, refer to the University's Achievement Relative to Opportunity policy and guidelines.